3- How do I make a business case for preservation?

How do I make a business case for preservation?

It is a rare institution which has a standing budget for everything needed for preservation. The shortfall is usually of two sorts:

1) maintenance: all content needs continuous attention, including air conditioning and dehumidification for content on shelves, media checking and repair for analogue content, file and media (storage) checking for digital content and updates of the catalogue (metadata) whenever content is used or modified. There may be a standing budget, but it rarely covers things that go wrong: environmental system fails, storage space is inadequate, format have become obsolete.

2) interventions or preservation actions: the major steps that are needed to keep a collection usable. The major actions are migrations (transfers) from old media to new media, digitisation to move from analogue to digital content, and migrations from one digital storage method to a new one.

The good news is that digitisation is likely to be the most expensive and time-consuming of all preservation actions — and after that everything gets easier and cheaper because the processes involved can be highly automated. A tape robot can migrate from old data tape to new with no human interaction beyond supplying the overall instructions, inserting new blank tapes and taking out old tapes.

Transfers happen at intervals measured in years or even decades, so it is the rare institution that has a standing budget to pay for this work — hence the FAQ about a business case.

Consider a car that has a major problem. It is not enough to just say “OK, we’ll get it fixed”. It may not be worth fixing; it may be more economical to replace it. There may be options for fixing it, with associated costs and risks. There are certainly options for replacing it: purchase, lease — or in some cities there is the option of taking out a membership in a group ‘car club’ scheme — a kind of cloud service, really. where you ‘pay as you use’.

Or do you need a car at all? Or do you need a lorry or a bus or a motorcycle? 

The point of a business case (finance case) is not to simply ask for money. The real point is to answer all the questions about what is really needed, and why it is needed — and then what the benefits, costs and risks are for the various option — and then ask for money.

PrestoCentre has a 100-page report from PrestoPRIME on “Audiovisual preservation strategies, data models and value-chains”. The report is by people who have looked into audiovisual preservation issues and options for 20 years. But for a quick review of all that information, PrestoCentre has the six page digest.

Here is a basic procedure for building a business case:

1) start with the collection strategy. Everything begins with what a collection is good for, and what it could become if transformed by a preservation action such as digitisation. The PrestoCentre Tutorial Making a preservation strategy covers a collection strategy as well. There is more information on the what digitisation can achieve in the Tutorial Why digitise AV material?

2) justify the investment: the collection strategy sets out the value of the collection. A preservation action can do two things: preserve value and extend value. At this point there are two broad paths: heritage value and economic value. We live in times where anything that can’t be reduced to a monetary value is ignored, because “it’s all about the bottom line”. This view has to be resisted by all public and heritage institutions, because there is another well-defined and quantifiable value: public value. Economists have dealt with public value for two centuries, and it is invoked for everything that the market cannot deliver — from clean air to honest judges.

It is very important to use ‘preservation of the public value’ of a collection as an argument, and to not be ashamed or intimidated by not being able to put a price on that value. For more information on public value, we suggest section 1.1.1 of the full 100-page report “Audiovisual preservation strategies, data models and value-chains” which describes how the BBC justified its investment in digitisation based on preserving the public value of everything the BBC had done (which sits in the archive if it sits anywhere). The whole issue of public value was presented, in a broadcast archive context, in the PrestoSpace annual audiovisual preservation progress report for 2007 – Deliverable D22.8, Annual Report on Preservation Issues for European Audiovisual Collections (2007) – pp27-35 (available on the PrestoCentre website).

The main way to extend the value of a collection is to extend the access. This area – creating access – is where one can also create interest and support, becuase digitisation does genuinely revolutionise the potential for access. However access has problems as well, covered in the PrestoCentre Tutorial Collection Strategy and Preservation Plans — which asks ‘are you ready for greater access?’.

3) set out the options, as you would for a car that has a fault. At this point we move beyond what can be answered in one page, but one simple statement can be made: for analogue audio and video there is only one option: digitise now! The equipment is disappearing fast — it is literally now or never.

4) get costs of the viable options. See the separate FAQ How much will it cost? 

5) if not already part of point 2), also list the benefits of each option — and (very important) set out the risks. If you repair car, something else could go wrong (a risk); a new car may have a three year guarantee (a benefit, or avoidance of a risk). Working out which option is best is a balance of costs, risks and benefits — making sure that maintaining public value and creating access are included as major benefits where appropriate.

That’s all for a one-page answer. A wealth of support and experience is available through the PrestoCentre — just look for Resources tagged Business models. My advice: don’t put it off, don’t be daunted, start now!

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