Herman Uffen, Tamar Kinkel and Shannon Roest

Herman Uffen, Tamar Kinkel and Shannon Roest

Last updated on 15 July 2019

Herman Uffen, Tamar Kinkel and Shannon Roest work for BMC on behalf of the Dutch Digital Heritage Network

The difficulties of managing and controlling the costs of digital sustainability

Controlling and managing the costs of digital sustainability remains a recurring topic in the field. Back in 2015 the 4C-project stated the following view: “In five years time it will be easier to design or procure more cost effective and efficient digital curation services because the costs, benefits and the business cases for doing so will be more widely understood across the curation life cycle and by all relevant stakeholders. Cost modelling will be part of the planning and management activities of all digital repositories.”

This view has not been realized yet. The costs of digital sustainability are often still unclear and difficult to manage: This because they are usually difficult to determine and are often not recorded as such in the regular financial exploitation of institutions. Furthermore, these structural costs are often funded in a project-based manner (focus on the short term).

In response to these findings the Dutch Heritage Network developed and implemented a cost model in the fields of: cultural heritage, media, archives and science in the Netherlands. This with the intent of creating transparency in the costs of digital sustainability and to create a tool which enables controlling and managing these costs in the future. 

Development a cost model for long-term digital accessibility

In 2016 and 2017, The Digital Heritage Network developed the Digital Sustainability Cost Model and presented it in the report ‘Research into the costs of digital sustainability’[1] . In this first study, the cost model was built and later used by 9 institutions. Applying the model has led to the following of benefits and insights:

  • The cost model provides the institutions insights in their own costs related to digital sustainability as well as more control over these costs. This provided insight into how the costs are distributed across the various activities[2] of the digital sustainability process per institution and per sector
  • Insights into the factors that cause costs (so called cost drivers). If institutions use the model for several years in a row, it can be determined how strong the influence of these factors are on the costs (= correlations). The model can also provide a statistical forecast of the costs (when sufficient data is provided).
  • Awareness of the relationship between the primary process (collection and digital sustainability) and the financial function of the organization and vice versa, as well as prioritization and importance of finances within one's own organization.
  • Opportunities to compare costs with other institutions that have completed the model (sectoral and cross sectoral) and which stimulates cooperation.
  • Possibilities for filling the 4C model (CCEx) and comparing results with international institutions.

Costs in a broader perspective (new insights and applications)

The cost price model was further spread and implemented by more institutions in the Netherlands in 2018 and 2019. This has led to a better understanding of the above points and further optimization of the cost model. The result is that the cost model helps institution to make the costs of digital sustainability transparent and thus gives them a grip on how to manage them and make well-founded strategic decisions.

The article linked below discusses the recent results and insights from the further distribution and implementation of the cost model. Here are some examples:

  • Eye and Lima used the model to explore the possibilities of creating an jointed storage.
  • The Dutch Royal Library (Koninklijke Bibliotheek) have used the cost model as an structure for their own financial administration and thus strengthened cost control.

Research into the costs of digital sustainability shows that these costs must be seen in a wider perspective. In other words, the costs are the result of the choices that an institution makes based upon its own sustainability policy. The costs also depend on the choices made regarding the organization of the digital sustainability process.

The same article discusses this in more detail and can be seen as a foundation for an article about the relationship between sustainability policy, generic collective services and costs. The Dutch Heritage Network will publish this article later this year.

Read article

 [1] NDE, 2017, Onderzoek naar de kosten digitale duurzaamheid, januari 2017, p. 1-68.

[2] The digital sustainability cost model of the NDE distinguishes between activities related to the digital sustainability process: Selection, Ingest, Processing, Documentation, Archive, Access and User Support. In addition, a distinction is made between overarching process activities, namely Metadata, Preservation Management, Infrastructure and ICT

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