How to Plan for Data Management Success

Research & Development | Tom Lyman| April 28, 2021

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Arkivum Marketing Manager Tom Lynam responds to common questions about creating long-term data management plans.

Each organisation is different — they have different objectives and face different challenges. I wanted to explore common questions that arise within every long-term data management plan and which I hope will answer some that may be on your list. Of course, not all of these queries will apply, but can be used as a starting point to ensure you’ve covered the important bases.

Preservation & Accessibility Requirements

One of the most important elements of data management planning is ensuring that you fully understand data requirements. It sounds like a very simple step, but is one we find many prospective customers have not asked themselves.

Storing any data has a cost associated to it, not just in monetary terms but also the resources required to maintain it and an impact on the environment. The first step in any planning is to ask: “Do I need to store this data?” Or even, “Should I be storing this data?” (let’s not forget that organisations shouldn’t be storing data beyond its need).

In many cases the answer will be yes (and that’s okay), but as organisations begin to generate increasing volumes of data, we must become smarter in how we manage and preserve it for the long term. Once this has been considered, we can start to explore the preservation requirements in more detail.

A few questions you can then ask yourself may include:

  • How long does the data need to be stored?
  • Who requires access to the data?
  • How quickly do they need to access it?
  • How frequently does it need to be accessed?
  • How safe or secure does the data need to be?

These answers can start to shape the tools and processes your organisation needs to build an effective long-term data management approach.

To give a quick example, one set of complex data may need to be frequently accessible for the next decade; this would require advanced preservation techniques applied such as normalisation of file formats to ensure they are kept up to date, ongoing fixity checks to ensure data hasn’t been corrupted or lost and appropriate metadata to ensure it can be easily found. Another dataset which also needs to be stored for a long period of time, but which has a very low likelihood of needing to be accessed, would have a very different approach. Even though no single approach is right or wrong, it is important that organisations understand their requirements and plan accordingly.

Building in Continual Improvement

Don’t forget that data and data management are fluid. Digital preservation and electronic archiving need to be considered as a process of continual improvement that aims to ensure the measures used in the archive remain appropriate for the digital content being held, and the purpose for which it is being retained.

Best practice approaches exist to aid in building your processes and offer a reliable indication of what good looks like. Popular approaches include both the FAIR data management principles and ALCOA+. There is also a range of different maturity models and self-assessment tools that organisations can use (and build into their planning) which help assess where an organisation currently lies, and where it can improve.

It is important to view maturity models not as means to achieve a high score, but an effective tool to help build an appropriate suite of processes that meet your business requirements. In previous roles, I have often seen organisations make the mistake of using a maturity model to celebrate a high level of internal achievement. Whilst these tools can help champion progress within an organisation, it’s important to use them properly and identify opportunities for improvement as well as celebration.

Don’t forget that data and data management are fluid.

Defining Value

Accurately defining, communicating and predicting the value delivered from a long-term data management initiative is difficult. Often the true value is only realised if appropriate investment hasn’t been made and something goes wrong (e.g., files become corrupted or lost, or an outdated format cannot be read). Yet any plan must factor in an expected level of value to be realised from the initiative, otherwise it will struggle to gain internal support and approval.

At Arkivum, we strongly advocate that anyone building a plan to strike the right balance between highlighting the risks of not investing appropriately and how effectively managing data for the long-term can add additional value to the organisation. This is about shifting the conversation from overcoming the challenge of what to do with stored data, to how to bring your archive to life and generate value from it.

A good example is from our life science customers who have a regulatory requirement to store clinical trial data for up to 25 years. There is greater value in effective archival of this data than simply complying with regulations. Shifting this conversation from risk to reward helps to build the case for an appropriate investment.

There is also a range of tools available to help anyone more effectively define value. Best practice approaches in the management of value or benefits can be investigated to help build a robust definition of how value will be obtained and measured throughout any data management initiative.

And to finish…

The areas I have covered in this post cover three of the most important areas to address when planning an effective approach to long-term data management:

  • Understand your preservation requirements and ensure you are constantly asking the right questions throughout the initiative.
  • Build in continual improvement to your plan and leverage available best practice and maturity models.
  • Clearly define the expected value from the initiative and shift the conversation from mitigating risk to unlocking organisational value.

Learn more about Perpetua from Arkivum and how it can support your organisation’s digital preservation needs.

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Tom Lyman
Marketing Manager, Arkivum

Tom Lynam joined Arkivum in 2020 as its Marketing Manager, responsible for all marketing activities across the business. He has more than 10 years of experience in marketing and product management roles across a range of industries including technology, IP and professional services organisations.

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