When is the right time to write a business case?

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Is this the right time to be writing a business case? Does it fulfil a need that the organisation has?

  • If yes: get on and do it!
  • If no: then get a comms plan for priming the senior management and look into triage for collections.
  • use this triage to help inform the business case. Consider getting a digital preservation mandate onto the agenda of senior managers.

Have any digital preservation projects been undertaken successfully in the organization before now?

  • If yes: make sure you know the lessons learned. Why has it not been continued? what elements of infrastructure or staffing or expertise can be re-used.
  • If no: need to understand what has prevented them from developing, or why they failed.

Has the senior management been primed to the issue of preservation?

  • If yes: the it's safe to proceed. You might want to get one of your champions to comment on a draft case.
  • If no: then identify a champion in senior management and talk to them informally. Use their feedback to help form the case and figure out how formal or informal the case needs to be.

What evidence is there that senior management would be receptive to a business case?

  • If there is evidence then you need to build on their expectations.
  • If not, then examine the strategic plan, operational plan, mandates and regulatory and legal environment to find reasons why they could be more receptive.

When is the best time in your organisation's cycle of decision making and budget allocation to submit a business case. Are you at that point yet?

  • If yes: get on and do it - make sure you know your deadlines and make sure that senior managers know that something is coming.
  • Make sure that its in the right format and also that any important stakeholders (ie IT department, records managers etc) are properly consulted and if possible put their commitment / endorsement alongside the business case.
  • If no: work out when is the right time. Use the interval to build momentum such as by priming senior managers, consulting relevant stakeholders, refining the empirical evidence that supports your case, talk to external agencies and colleagues about successes.

What can you do in the short term to triage your collection? Damage control?

  • A simple workflow for getting started in preservation would include the following steps: characterise your collection (ie know what it is you've got); document the collection (ie generate a report on what you've got); assess risks to identify practical actions for high risk content types or high value collections;
  • plan your preservation actions (making sure that actions are SMART and make sure that your plans can be validated; execute as much of the plan as you can do with limited resources; communicate the results of these actions including success and challenges: the log-jams should will help inform the business case and staffing needs. If all this is too hard then just make sure you have good backups!
  • Check the NDSA Levels of Preservation for more ideas on short term actions

Do you need to fill a skills gap before you really get going in digital preservation?

  • If yes: this skills gap should form part of the business case. Can you get training, can you be released from duties, can you identify the people that need the training and get them involved? Are these the right people or just the people that are made available? Managers can be unwilling to release highly competent staff but may be willing to release more junior or less experienced staff for new projects. There is a need for curiosity and flexibility. Remember that it's easier to start with simple things and work to harder ones, so don't set yourself up to fail.
  • If no: then get started. Make sure it's properly written into a job description and communicate to relevant stakeholders that this person, or people, are the designated lead for digital preservation. Make sure they are integrated into professional networks (DPC, OPF and NDSA are good places to start). The digital preservation community moves quickly and the 'problem' can change a lot in a short time.

Do you already have access to the physical infrastructure you need within your organization?

  • If you have everything you need: then get started - you're very lucky! Make sure that the investment in this infrastructure is from core budgets and is not inadvertently lost from future planning/resourcing cycles.
  • If you have some of what you need: then identify where you will get the other bits. You can outsource a lot of preservation and you should look at how to collaborate on things like preservation planning.
  • If no: then you can consider outsourcing as well establishing a local infrastructure. Outsourcing can allow you to develop a lot more quickly because you are drawing on other people's existing skills as well as services and infrastructure, focusing your development on core institutional challenges.

Do you already have a policy environment that is receptive to digital preservation?

  • If yes: the business case should be easy to make, and you should align the case closely to specific and relevant elements of the existing policy framework.
  • If 'almost': what would make it more receptive? Can you influence the strategic plan of the organization to make it more receptive. You can infiltrate policy and practice on a day to day basis (i.e. ground up) or you can try to persuade senior policy makers and get their support (i.e. top down). Or both!
  • If no: then the business case is going to be hard, but don't despair as this gives you much greater freedom to be creative. External drivers - regulation, legislation, funding mandates may be helpful, and a disaster story can grab attention. A useful approach is to make contact with external colleagues and copy from comparators. Agencies like the DPC have a specific policy development focus.

Will new solutions emerge that simplify the problem, and if so should we hold off our investment?

  • This is a really difficult question to answer. To answer meaningfully requires a significant effort of community engagement and technological horizon scanning which is often as great as the effort needed to solve the problem.
  • Experience also points to four recognised issues: firstly if you wait for perfection then you will wait indefinitely and this is strongly discouraged given the speed at which technology becomes obsolete: waiting will compound the complexity of the digital preservation challenge. However, there is no doubt that early-adopters spend a disproportionate resource on development work from which others benefit and they are likely to make honest mistakes. So early adoption is better for strategic agencies that have a strong mandate to lead a sector and the practical capacity to invest; or research agencies which have an interest in innovation and experimentation. Thirdly capacity building for preservation benefits hugely from 'getting started'. Therefore the only way to know if emerging solutions will make the job easier is to get your hands dirty - gaining practical experience of the problems which need to be solved. Finally it is highly unlikely that any 'off the shelf' solution could be developed for digital preservation in the immediate future. Fundamentally digital preservation is not just a technology problem. Even if the entire technology stack were outsourced, then issues like understanding the designated community, understanding risk, preservation planning and quality tolerances will remain the responsibility of your own organization.

Does the organization have a culture in which complicated and mission critical challenges can be solved in a nimble and agile manner?

  • This connects closely to institutional readiness and receptiveness to a business plan. Even if the business plan were accepted, there is a risk that it would be under-funded or delayed.

What is the budget forecast - should we be looking to a short term project or a longer term commitment

  • Your business case should be realistic in both timing and in scale/ambition. It may be easier to progress the work in a series of small steps rather than one large investment. A sense of the organisation's financial situation may help to find the right approach.