Ensure Your Data Remains Accessible with Long-Term Digital Preservation

October 31, 2018

5 minute read

In the 21st Century business landscape, data is the main driver of executive level decisions. The more accessible data a company has, the better positioned they are to take smart, sustainable actions. The ability to make these data-driven decisions is perhaps more crucial in the Life Sciences and Healthcare industries than in any other industry. And, having a tendency to generate great volumes of data on a daily basis, they’re perfectly positioned to do so. With priorities such as patient profiles, compliance and regulatory requirements, and the results of ongoing scientific research, the data these industries create supports critical, life-saving functions in product and drug development, clinical analytics and disease surveillance.

But where does all that data go? What a company does with its data can make or break their fortunes. In order for the data to remain valuable and accessible, companies need to think of the long term. And with overall patient care at stake, a Life Sciences organization cannot afford to neglect its long-term digital preservation strategy.

According to a KPMG report, only 55% of Life Sciences companies have implemented (or are planning to implement) a comprehensive, multi-stage, digital data strategy. Not only will a long-term plan help enterprises access their data with ease, it will also set the foundation for technological adaptations, content control and preservation and ongoing adherence to compliance standards.

Read on to learn how document digitization processes will ensure your data assets remain accessible for the long term.

Preserve critical documents for the future

Many industries are required to archive their documents for periods of up to 5 or 10 years. However, in the Healthcare and Life Sciences fields, we estimate that the average document retention period is about 30 years. It’s common for Life Sciences organizations to refer back to previous research and product trials as they develop new ones. But this can prove tricky if they were created using outdated file formats (Word Perfect, anyone?) which are no longer supported on their current systems.

Given that all businesses can expect ongoing changes and upgrades in the software programs they use, converting all data into a universal, digital file format is the only practical way to ensure that old documents can still be accessed and read in the decades to come. Maintaining access to legacy files can be a great cost-saver for many companies because it cuts down on the need for re-creating research and completely eliminates the need to keep legacy software licenses up to date just to keep old file formats afloat.

Document digitization processes center on converting all existing content (including paper) to PDF/A format (the “A” stands for “archiving”). It’s a searchable filetype that can easily integrate with existing document workflows and content management systems. The format is self-contained, meaning the file contains everything needed to view its contents in the future, which can ensure the long-term accuracy and accessibility of Life Sciences information.

Control volumes of content with digital processes

This Forbes contributor estimates that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created each day, currently. That’s an astounding amount of information, especially considering that 90 per cent of it was generated in the last two years alone. In Life Sciences and Healthcare, this volume of data is fueled by patient and submission records, product research, scientific testing, analytics, surveillance and more—all of which will continue to grow exponentially, especially as our population ages.

The increased volume of data will inevitably mean a heightened reliance on automation and the development of new workflows, due to the speed at which it must be processed and managed within the industry to support critical (and often life-saving) decisions. Process automation amid document digitization eliminates the need for most manual tagging and conversions, and ultimately speeds up the process of finding the files you need.

When healthcare data and documents are properly preserved and classified, the industry can deliver improved patient care and achieve optimal outcomes through real-time analytics and evidence-backed research.

Maintain vital documents even if disaster strikes

Europe has seen its fair share of unfortunate events in which the destruction of paper documents was at stake. Two such incidents are the fire at the National Library of Wales in 2013, and the destruction of race records and permits in a fire that consumed the Athletics Ireland offices in August 2018. Gathering up an appreciable number of files (especially paper ones) in an emergency remains virtually impossible and given the quantity of files Life Sciences organizations maintain, the risk is even more serious.

The loss of vital records and information could result in the closure of companies that are unable to protect or reconstruct records such as accounts receivables, research and development files, or major contracts and agreements. Preserving vital records in a digital PDF/A format, as part of a long-term document preservation plan, can ensure they remain accessible from any location, and on any device, even if Mother Nature has other plans in mind.

Meet compliance and privacy regulations by converting records to PDF/A

Given the increasing regulatory need to access data many years in the future, Life Sciences organizations require an internally accepted document format that is non-rewritable, non-erasable and platform-agnostic: the PDF/A.

This file format is one that preserves business information for the long term while improving the "findability" of content. These criteria are especially important in the case of personally identifiable information (PII). In Europe specifically, data-protection regulations such as GDPR include a “right to be forgotten” clause. Individuals can submit a request to organizations holding their PII and ask to have their personal data erased.

In a non-digitized environment, finding this critical PII could prove difficult, and the security of data may be compromised. While fines imposed under GDPR are still looming in the EU, France and Italy alone are reporting a 53 per cent jump in data-privacy complaints from last year. Simply put, it’s significantly easier to find and delete information when it’s been preserved in a searchable, digital format.

In the case of mergers and acquisitions in Life Sciences, adopting volumes of data stores comes hand-in-hand with any deal. For the acquiring company, this new content must be scanned to ensure that it is GDPR compliant. Taking on a new organization means guaranteeing their PII is secure. Otherwise compliant EU-based organizations expose themselves to the potential for hefty fines if there is an undisclosed lack of compliance in their new acquisition.

Wrap up

Implementing a long-term document preservation solution is key to ensuring that vital business information is stored effectively; is easily searchable; and supports compliance, collaboration and other critical business processes. Regardless of technology, circumstance, or data volumes, digitizing paper documents and other electronic records into PDF/A format will ensure Life Sciences organizations adhere to internationally recognized standards for the digital preservation of critical content.

PLUS: Did you know Adlib has been helping Fortune 100 Life Sciences organizations implement long term digital preservation strategies for over 15 years? Click here to schedule your 30-minute consultation and find out if we can help you implement yours.

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