Planning a Digitization Initiative – Part One

The widespread implementation of GCDOCS, coupled with Library and Archives Canada’s move to the digital transfer of information resources as of 2017, provides Government Departments with the perfect opportunity to review any existing digitization initiatives or embark on new ones.

In LAC’s own words: as of 2017 – information resources of enduring value that are created after 2017 will be accepted by LAC in digital format only

This is part one of a planned series of blogs on digitization and my goals this time around are to 1) identify the business issues that digitization addresses, 2) explain the different approaches to digitization 3) identify selection criteria for digitizing records, and 4) discuss governance and compliance considerations to ensure records are digitized in a defensible manner that helps preserve the integrity, authenticity, and security of digitized records.

Next month I will publish part two in this series and I will go into greater detail about some of the technical requirements to be considered when implementing a digitization initiative. I will also cover how establishing clear goals and having a good plan will go a long way to ensuring that digitization initiatives are effectively implemented to meet business and legislative requirements.

First, a bit of Background to Define Digitization

In most government departments, digitization involves the conversion of a record (text, photograph, map, etc.) from a paper-based format to a digital format by using scanning equipment. Once the record is scanned and digitized, the record is stored in an EDRMS system, which helps ensure the integrity of the digitized record is maintained (e.g. GCDOCS). If there are no operational or legal reasons to keep the original paper record, a quality assessment is completed on the digitized record to ensure the scanned image is legible and consistent with the original record, and then original paper record is disposed of.


What Business Issue does Digitization Address?

Digitizing your paper records can help address several business issues by:

  • Providing greater access to frequently used information especially when the digitized record is stored in an EDRMS.
  • Making business processes more efficient by integrating digitized information into a workflow.
  • Supporting business continuity planning by ensuring that important business records are backed up and recoverable in the event of a crises or disaster.
  • Containing budget pressures by decreasing the storage costs of paper records. (I would caution that this last point is a weaker driver since there are costs associated with digitization. These costs include: developing the digitization process; investment in equipment; providing resources to capture, index, manage, and store digitized information.)

Approaches to Digitizing

When you have made the decision to digitize your paper records, you will need to have a clear understanding of the best approach, or combination of approaches, to use.

One approach is to do a full backfile digitization, converting all your paper records. I will point out that this approach is labour and resource intensive. Also, since there is little value in digitizing dormant paper records near the end of their lifecycle or records that are rarely accessed but are kept to meet retention requirements, this approach is often not required and I don’t typically recommend it.

A second approach is to do a partial backfile conversion, converting only records that are frequently accessed or that have been identified as vital records. This partial approach can be effectively combined with a day forward approach that digitizes all new incoming records for capture into an EDRMS. A third approach is an on-demand approach that digitizes backfile records as they are requested combined with a day forward approach. This can be an effective approach when resources are limited. I would also like to mention that when implementing a day forward approach, you should review the business processes associated with capturing the record into your EDRMS. A move from a purely paper-based process provides an opportunity to improve the process by using an automated workflow that may eliminate steps and streamline the overall process.

Ultimately, deciding on the right approach will depend on a department’s budget, available resources, and record usage.


Criteria for Digitization

Once you have identified the conversion approach for your digitization initiative, you will need to develop key criteria to identify which paper records are good candidates to be converted to a digital format. Examples of key criteria include:

  1. The original paper record can be disposed of within a relatively short period of time after the digital record is created; there are no legal or operational reasons to retain the paper and the paper record is covered by a disposition authority. A good resource to consult regarding disposition requirements for digitized and source records is Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Records and Disposition Authority 96-023
  2. The record is used frequently by employees and the record is retrieved and referenced during the course of normal business.
  3. The paper record is damaged and contains valuable content, so there is a need for the record to be preserved in a digital format.
  4. The record has long-term business value to the department. However, I have one huge caution to add to this criterion; if a record has a very long retention period (e.g. 30 years), the record must remain accessible over the full length of the retention period. And accessible means not only the specific digital format, but also access to the software and any hardware required to read the record.

I have found a good resource to consult during the planning stage is the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) guide, Guidelines on File Formats for Transferring Information Resources of Enduring Value

Governance for Defensible Digitization

Since a digitized record can be required as evidence in court cases and other types of proceedings, it is important that a department be able to demonstrate the authenticity, integrity, and security of the record and be able to present the record as credible evidence. Converting a paper record to a digital record and using an EDRMS like GCDOCS as the designated repository, ensures that access, security and audit controls can be attached to the digitized record and that the digitized record can be controlled and managed throughout its lifecycle. This process helps to satisfies legal requirement and is just one of many reasons why it is essential that departments establish governance and compliance measures that support digitization initiatives.

In addition to using technology effectively, departments need to develop a sound governance framework around digitization. This framework will identify that digitization initiatives are authorized at a department level and will inform the policy or directive that authorizes the digitization of paper-based source documents as part of the departments usual or ordinary business practices. The policy or directive should be supported by additional guidance provided to all levels of the organization through the development of standards, guidelines, and procedures for digitization.

Digitization initiatives should also be supported by a digitization procedure manual. The procedure manual is required to describe the digitization process, controls and tools (hardware and software) to use in the digitization process. The procedure manual can help you defend the integrity, authenticity, and security of digitized images by showing that there is a well-established and standardized departmental procedure in place for digitization initiatives. This is particularly important if the admissibility of the digitized record is ever questioned during legal proceedings. The Canadian General Standard Board’s Electronic Records as Documentary Evidence recommends that the procedure manual include the following sections, with detailed procedures accompanying each section.

  1. Records to be digitized.
  2. Preparation
  3. Capture
  4. Indexing (Metadata
  5. Quality control
  6. Registration & certification
  7. Post-digitization.
  8. Audit data.
  9. Storage
  10. Integrity and security.
  11. Retention.
  12. Disposal
  13. Backup and recovery
  14. Revisions to procedure manual
  15. Roles and responsibilities.

The Canadian General Standards Board’s Electronic Records as Documentary Evidence, 2005 version is currently under review and while a revised version is being planned, the 2005 version remains a good resource to consult since it specifies principles and procedures for creating electronic records to enhance their admissibility as evidence in legal proceedings.

In addition to the standard on Electronic Records as Documentary Evidence, the Government of Canada Scan and Destroy Initiative (GCSDI) is being developed and once complete, GCDSI will provide policy guidance on digitization for government departments. For those with access, there is a GCPEDIA page on the GCSDI which provides information on the this initiative as well as general advice and guidance relating to digitization initiatives including a list of useful web resources on digitization


In summary, a digitization initiative, implemented with clearly defined goals, processes and organization-wide support will ensure that operational and business requirements are met and risk to the organization is mitigated by ensuring digitized records retain their authenticity, reliability, and security.


This blog provides general information only and is not to be used as legal advice for specific legal issues. If you have specific questions regarding the legality of digitized records contact your departmental legal representative

Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that the information presented in this blog is current and accurate. At any time, some details may not yet reflect recent changes.


Leave us a comment: * Your information is never shared