Jenny Mitcham

Jenny Mitcham

Last updated on 18 December 2023

Jenny Mitcham is Head of Good Practice and Standards at the Digital Preservation Coalition

Last month the DPC hosted a series of ‘Digital Preservation Futures’ events designed to showcase the work of our Supporter organizations. The event that kicked off this series was a panel discussion entitled “So I’ve finally procured a digital preservation system, now what?”. The session began with a representative from each Supporter organization giving a short lightning talk in answer to the question posed in the title, and this was followed by a lively discussion and Q&A with the audience. It worked well to benefit from the expertise of all of our Supporters together and in many cases to hear them effectively ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ and repeating and developing on the points that others had made. With representatives from Arkivum, Artefactual, AVP, boxxe, Libnova, Preservica, and consultant Simon Wilson, this really did feel like ‘a concerted effort’. Pulling together the key learnings from the session into a blog post for World Digital Preservation Day seemed an obvious next step. 


We captured a photo of our online Supporter panel event, including Supporter representatives and some of our attendees.

The title of this event represents a very real issue that we see arising within our membership. We all know that it takes a huge amount of time and energy to procure a digital preservation system (including the lead up to this event which includes making the case that time and resource should be allocated to this). There is sometimes an expectation that once the procurement process is complete, the implementation can begin pretty much straight away and soon the system will be fully configured with well established workflows managed by knowledgeable and experienced staff. 


The reality however is often quite different. There is a lot of effort needed to move a new system to ‘business as usual’ and sometimes a lack of clarity around the steps to get to that point. The DPC’s Procurement Toolkit is a valuable resource which provides tips and advice on the procurement process, including a list of system requirements which can be adapted and used. It does not however, go into great detail about the post-procurement phase, so we were keen to find out from our Supporters what advice they would give to organizations that have just procured a new digital preservation system…what should they do next in order to ensure a smooth and successful implementation?

Here is our summary of the top ten tips that emerged from these discussions:

  1. Make sure you have enough time set aside for a successful implementation

Several of our Supporters stressed the importance of allowing adequate time when implementing a newly procured system. The post-procurement phase requires an investment of time from the organization that has procured the system as well as from the supplier. The success of an implementation relies on both parties putting adequate time into this phase. Arkivum also stressed the importance of being prepared to be flexible if timelines need to be adjusted. boxxe encouraged us not to race through and try and get things done too quickly - this sometimes happens if initial timelines that have been set are unrealistic. 


  1. Communicate with your solution provider

It was noted by many Supporters that effective communication between customer and vendor is crucially important once a new system has been procured. Libnova noted that for most customers it is the first or maybe second digital preservation system implementation they have been through, but for the vendor it is something that they have done many times before. Make the most of the knowledge and experience that the solution provider brings. Other tips shared around communication were that customers should always ask if they don’t understand something - there is no such thing as a stupid question, and it is better for everyone if communication is happening at the right level. Customers were also encouraged to share honest feedback with the vendor - if something isn’t working out, it is better to have a conversation about that early on. 


  1. Make the most of the onboarding process and training offered

Once a new system has been procured there should be a structured onboarding process and training available to help you get to grips with the new system and its workflows. Preservica highlighted the importance of getting maximum value from the learning opportunities provided. Don’t see the training as a one-off activity - be prepared to revisit the materials. Each time you use them, you may find it increases your knowledge and understanding. Customers have better outcomes where they fully engage with the training.


  1. Make sure you have clearly defined goals

Set some goals - both short and long term - and communicate these with everyone involved in the implementation. What do you want your digital preservation system implementation to look like? What do you want to achieve in the first few months and where would you like to be in five or ten years time? It is important to know what you are aiming for as well as making sure these goals are realistic and achievable.


  1. Remember it isn’t just about the technology

Whilst it is tempting to think of the implementation of a new digital preservation system as a purely a technical task, it is clear there is more than just technology involved. Artefactual encouraged us to remember the digital preservation 3-legged stool and ensure the other legs (organization and resources) are also given enough attention. System implementation efforts will not succeed if they are not backed up by people and policy. AVP noted the importance of having the right governance for the new system - knowing who owns it, who will implement it, who will support it, and who defines the strategy are all key. Remember also that a new system implementation necessitates change within an organization. They also encouraged us to think about how that change will be managed.


  1. Get experimenting

The best way of getting to know a new system is to use it. Artefactual encouraged organizations to “just start” and suggested that an organization should get stuck in to making an AIP and learning from that experience. They noted that not everyone needs to be a digital preservation expert, but we should aim to become “knowledgeable practitioners” and have some understanding of what the system is doing behind the scenes. Preservica encouraged organizations to get some data into the system and start experimenting with the different migration options available. Libnova encouraged us to not worry too much if things don’t go as expected first time. That provides a good opportunity to find out a bit more about the system and your specific content. Treat them as a good learning experience, unpick them and try again.


7. Use real data

Both Arkivum and Artefactual recommended that organizations use ‘real data’ when learning to use their new system - this is how you will get the most out of your experimentation. A corpus of data that doesn’t reflect your own collections or challenges might not be the best way to learn. Simon Wilson encouraged organizations to select a collection to use for a pilot project and get started with that. It was noted by Arkivum that “the first ingest is the worst ingest” but this in itself is also a valuable learning experience!


8. Don’t worry too much about the hard stuff

When getting to grips with a newly procured system, several of our Supporters noted the importance of becoming familiar with the basics first. Artefactual encouraged organizations not to let exceptions design policy - if a process works for 95% of your content, go with that. You may have some really tricky content that may need to be handled differently, but don’t let that stop you making progress with the more straightforward stuff in the first instance. 


9. Document decisions

When implementing a new system you will be making many important decisions along the way. At procurement there will be reasons why you selected a particular system, but post-procurement there will be many more decisions being made. Boxxe noted that recording why you configured the system in a particular way or established particular workflows is a really helpful activity, providing evidence of the mindset and vision for the implementation.


10. Measure progress

It may take a while to move from initial system implementation to business as usual and it is helpful to be able to measure the progress that is being made. Simon Wilson recommends establishing some KPIs (key performance indicators) to help you demonstrate progress. Find out what motivates your colleagues - do you need to be able to demonstrate how much content you have ingested, or how much has been subsequently accessed? AVP also stressed the value of defining metrics for success - in the short term, you can’t demonstrate that you have successfully preserved something for 50 years, so consider which metrics you can use instead. The use of maturity models such as the DPC’s Rapid Assessment Model  may also provide a helpful way of being able to demonstrate continuous improvement over the period of time in which the system is being implemented. “Stand back and realise how far you’ve come” were the final words of Simon Wilson’s lightning talk. I think that nicely sums up the importance of being able to measure, demonstrate and celebrate the progress that has been made!

A concerted effort!

It was great to see DPC’s Supporter organizations working together, sharing their knowledge, and providing helpful tips that will be of use to anyone about to emerge from a procurement process and into the post-procurement implementation phase. Hopefully this blog post has captured some of the points that were raised, as well as demonstrating the benefits of working together to come up with an answer to what turns out to be quite a complicated question …“So I’ve finally procured a digital preservation system, now what?”

Author’s note: This blog post was also a bit of a collaborative effort - thanks to my colleagues Sarah Middleton and Michael Popham for commenting on my first draft!

Scroll to top