Jon Tilbury

Jon Tilbury

Last updated on 21 November 2018

Jonathan Tilbury is CTO and Founder of Preservica based in the UK

Digital Preservation has come a long way since the initial research activities resulted in cornerstone tools such as PRONOM, DROID, and JHOVE and the creation of the familiar OAIS reference model. The evolution of this change can be seen in the Digital Preservation Coalition itself, charting its creation, the growth in membership numbers, and the gradual move away from pure cultural heritage and academic organisations to the incorporation of different types of organisations. I’ve been there since these early days and am very excited about where the sector is headed.

Products have emerged to reflect this change. You can now choose between open source community tools and investment backed escrowed systems. These have a common core of functionality covering all the OAIS functions and growing sophistication to reflect their communities. They are supported by companies dotted around the world employing specialists in their sector. Choosing between these products depends on where your emphasis is, which functions you value most, the skill level of your team and a look at the total cost of ownership.

However, the number and nature of organisations that recognise the need for digital preservation is starting to change at an increasing pace. Within cultural heritage and academia new users do not have the capability to understand the details of preservation theory or supply IT services, whether operations or coding. They want a system that makes content acquisition, curation, preservation and delivery quick and easy, and that doesn’t place a burden on the overworked IT team.

Beyond the current pioneering sectors, business and government is starting to get involved. The demands of those responsible for the long-term preservation of business records, whether public or private, are quite different to a heritage user. They don’t have the knowledge or inclination to understand the deep theory, but they do want to be reassured that there is a community out there that does.

This change in user profiles has a profound implication for the digital preservation landscape. The automatic acquisition of content out of the systems currently used to manage business information is essential given the data volume when compared to capacity of the records management teams charged with this task. The user of Artificial Intelligent techniques to automatically appraise and enrich the content is required to deal with this tidal wave of content moving through. Once saved, the automatic and repeated application of trusted preservation actions on the content to ensure its readability is needed using preservation rules based on distributed best practice. Also, the distribution and exploration of content both via user friendly web-based interfaces and fully functional APIs is critical to getting value out of the information collected.

This community also has requirements that are less important to the cultural sector. Sophisticated fine-grained access control enacting GDPR and other regulations is essential given the sensitivity of the material. The use of the material to support legal actions requires the addition of emerging trustworthy digital proof techniques such as Blockchain or PKI. These techniques will ensure the relevance of digital preservation to a wider and very different range of organisations and uses.

The current digital preservation community will benefit from this evolution and has a key role to play in its achievement. The platforms will become easier to use and more sophisticated, but this is only possible with the intellectual contribution of current users to content acquisition, curation and preservation best practice, encapsulating their experience in a way that can be automatically applied by IT systems. Protocols to share this experience between dissimilar systems are emerging lead by the JISC-backed PAR project.

Personally, I am proud that Preservica is at the forefront of this evolution and is developing technologies that will fully support its delivery. We won’t rest until digital preservation just happens as part of the normal business practice, whatever your business is.

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