Arguably, the most important information asset of any jurisdiction is its laws. In the digital age, this means that there is a digital repository somewhere – most likely under the control of the legislature – that is used to publish, update and generally keep the statute safe from all danger.
The word ‘safety’ has many dimensions here and unfortunately, some of them are regularly underappreciated. This article highlights some of these safety risks that are often overlooked.
Hardware platform risk
Is the statute managed on a mainstream hardware platform? This is important because technology has moved very rapidly since the introduction of computers into legislatures in the late sixties and early seventies. Some of the platforms that were state of the art then, such as mainframes and the operating systems they depend on, have largely been replaced with cloud-oriented operating systems in mainstream computing. As such, the skillsets required to operate the older hardware and operating systems are becoming ever scarcer and more expensive.
Backup platform risk
Many backup technologies that involve physical media such as tape, CD-ROMs, etc., are becoming problematic because the hardware required to read them is getting harder and more costly to find.
A cautionary tale can be found in the UK Digital Domesday Book project which aimed to create a computer-based, multimedia version of the Domesday Book in the 1980s. The digital storage technology intended to last 1000 years only lasted for 15 years because the disc hardware required to read it became obsolete making the digital version unreadable.
Data format risk
Is the statute managed in a mainstream data format? Just as hardware platforms have changed dramatically since the seventies, so too have the data formats – especially the data formats for documents typically used in statute. Formats ranging from IBM DCF to Lotus Notes to Folio Views to WordPerfect have all become legacy technologies and even if there are no legacy hardware issues to contend with, the skillsets and software modules required to work with the formats are all falling further and further away from mainstream computing.
System design risk
Is the statute managed in a framework based on the economics of computing as it was decades ago or as it is today?
In decades past, it was often necessary to work with documents on ‘green screen’ technologies where documents had to be marked up/tagged ‘by hand’ in order to keep them as small as possible. Due to the high costs, systems were designed to optimize for storage costs as opposed to, for example, ease of drafting and amending.
In the modern era, storage is extremely cheap by comparison and contemporary systems are more likely to be optimized for ease of use by attorneys and para-legal staff.
Resilience into the future
There can be little doubt that addressing the skillset shortages and maintenance challenges associated with continuing to manage statute on legacy technology makes modernizing a vital priority. Key to successfully moving away from legacy systems is working with a partner with deep domain knowledge and a proven track record of migrating statute with the 100 percent accuracy required for this most mission-critical of assets.