A sinking feeling over document migration

A new information technology crisis is looming, many times larger than the

Year 2000 problem, technology expert Rich Lysakowski says. It's the problem

of electronic document migration.

Millions of electronic documents are becoming unreadable as new hardware

and software systems are developed and old ones are abandoned. To be saved,

old documents must be migrated to formats that will be readable by tomorrow's

computer systems. But the task of migrating documents, and the cost of information

lost from documents not migrated, will amount to "hundreds of trillions

of dollars over the next 30 to 40 years," Lysakowski predicted.

Lysakowski has christened the looming migration problem "Titanic 2020" after

the massive luxury liner that sank and the year he expects migration costs

to become oppressive.

By comparison, the international effort to keep computers operating through

the Year 2000 date change cost about $750 billion, said Lysakowski, who

is executive director of the Collaborative Electronic Notebook System Association.

The association is an organization of IT makers and users that promotes

the development of advanced electronic recordkeeping systems.

The problem and cost could be minimized if IT users agreed on a common format

for electronic documents. But so far, that's not happening, Lysakowski told

an electronic documents conference Thursday. Software developers focus on

the money they can earn by developing new programs quickly and often; they

do not design formats designed to last the 20 or 50 or years that electronic

documents must be kept, he said.

Many electronic records managers are counting on the new Internet language

XML to become the common standard and eliminate the need for future document

migrations. "XML is a shining star on the horizon," Lysakowski agreed. "But

the problem with a star is it never touches the ground. We're always running

toward the horizon."

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