The Security Benefits of Microfilm: Keeping Your Documents Safe

It seems everyone is rushing to the cloud these days. Businesses are being sold on the flexibility and productivity it offers. But cloud adoption, especially for document storage, has a significant sticking point for many: security.

"However attractive digitization may be in our current technological environment, I value its hard-working counterpart, microfilm, even more highly.” - Jan Ferrari, Director of State and Local Records Management and State Records Administrator, Texas.

It seems everyone is rushing to the cloud these days. Businesses are being sold on the flexibility and productivity it offers. But cloud adoption, especially for document storage, has a significant sticking point for many: security.

Research from IS Decisions found that approximately half of American small- and medium-sized businesses believe their data is unsafe in the cloud. That number increases to 56% who say they struggle with hybrid storage solutions – meaning a combination of on-premise and cloud – because they lack consistent security across different IT infrastructures.

Consider these fears in a business that operates with highly sensitive information, like healthcare organizations and their medical records or government agencies with classified documents, for example. Add regulatory expectations to the equation and you can see where putting data in third-party hands gets dicey. That same IS Decisions survey revealed that 50% believe cloud storage actually has made it harder, not easier, to comply with regulations.

Security has always been an issue with document storage, whether you’re talking about historical records, business records, personal items, etc. For decades, microfilm dutifully served the role of the preservation medium of choice. But digitization has changed everything. Suddenly, the idea that copies of important or valuable records could be kept on tiny hard drives looked like a death knell for microfilm. Except that there’s still that security thing. As Texas records administrator Jan Ferrari notes in her quote above, microfilm hasn’t lost its importance to many who are charged with keeping important documents secure and preserved.

Digital files do offer convenience over microforms, that’s not a debate, but digital files are nonetheless subject to data leakage, corruption and damage – and increasingly more frequently – hacking or theft. Furthermore, the need for the appropriate hardware and software to access these files also creates limitations. Do you believe that Adobe Reader will be handy 300 years from now when someone wants to view a PDF file created last year?

There’s a certain degree of comfort that comes with having authority over your own information, but digital files stored in off-site warehouses, or even in the cloud, leave owners and users of the data without total control. These shared services take the documents outside the enterprise. Conversely, in-house scanning and conversion means organizations with highly sensitive records can keep that data secure and accessible within their own walls. It’s the ease of digital with the security of microfilm.

But it is not necessarily a matter of digital versus microfilm. Toby Graham, director of the Digital Library of Georgia and the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia, explains the two are not competing because microfilm archives offer security and longevity while digital files are assembled for ease and access. “The two are not at odds,” Graham said in a newspaper interview. “It really is a combination of digital and microfilm. We’re looking at a hybrid approach.”

Taking us back, microfilm has long been the storage medium for trillions of important records and has earned a reputation for low cost, dependable storage with storage life that is expected to reach 500 years. This is a performance record that is unmatched by any other media. However, if you look at what has been tried and what is being tried as a potential replacement for microfilm, you will quickly see that currently there are no technologies that replace the security and low-cost archival performance of microfilm. What is on microfilm now is best retained on microfilm. It is the backup you need if the digital side of the hybrid situation fails in some way.

A second issue associated with records stored on microfilm is microfilm’s correctly perceived inability to meet the continued and growing demands for almost immediate access to information no matter how it is being stored. Today’s digital population wants it now. Fast information is more valuable than slow information. The good news is that developing microfilm scanner technologies are poised to provide exceptional capabilities in quickly accessing information that has and is being stored on microfilm.

One current technology leading the way is being employed by e-ImageData in its ScanPro® All-In-One™ scanners. These All-In-One scanners are using newly developed area sensor technology which has been created by some of the brightest talent in the camera research industry and can provide information capture capabilities not possible with simple decade-old line scanning technology (ribbon scanning). Just in the last few months, this new area sensor technology has moved the microfilm scanner industry forward, keeping the industry attractive to the digital world. It has replaced the large, highly expensive (near $100,000), complicated to operate and difficult to maintain machine requiring specially trained personnel to operate. The All-In-One is the simple solution.

There has been spectacular progress on both prices and on performance. The All-In-One scanner can be purchased for under $10,000. If your digital mindset is for quick, this reliable, accurate and versatile, the All-In-One scanner gets you there far faster than the old technology on other manufacturers far more costly machines. That’s digital progress in the microfilm arena. As Toby Graham has stated, we are truly in a hybrid environment.

You can see the All-In-One scanners in action at trade shows and even select a trade show that features a drawing for a free All-In-One scanner. Check the e-ImageData website to learn more about the All-In-One scanner and to see which locations we will be heading to next.

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