Smart Enterprise Magazine

Volume 7, Number 3, 2013

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Page 18 of 43

Up Close IMAGE: ANDY BAKER M iriam Waterhouse, CIO of Australia's National Film & Sound Archive (NFSA), faces a series of tough technical challenges. The NFSA must facilitate the dissemination of and access to culturally significant assets on a continuing basis by exploiting technology innovations, including mobile and social computing. Yet when asked about her role, Waterhouse is quick to emphasize the NFSA's business aspect. "Yes, my role is to leverage technology to help preserve and maintain digital and information assets," she says. "But in an archival context, curating also means leveraging technology innovations that add value to repositories of digital data that will always continue to grow because an archive is never static, but rather a living entity." The NFSA, based in Canberra, holds Australia's largest collection of images and sounds from film, television, radio and sound recordings. The archive's audiovisual collection contains more than 1.9 million works, including videos, audiotapes, compact discs and phonograph cylinders, as well as documents such as photographs, posters and cinema lobby cards. CIO Waterhouse, who joined the NFSA earlier this year, oversees a range of IT systems that include a small army of storage technologies, high-speed communications networks and a digital archive that will soon exceed 200 terabytes and is on its way to multiple petabytes. Like many CIOs, Waterhouse performs a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, she oversees, manages and implements the NFSA's IT systems. But on the other, she must also work hand-in-hand with the business, ensuring that its goals and needs are met. "As the CIO, I'm working more closely with the organization, not from a technical perspective but from a business perspective," Waterhouse says. "It's fundamental to IT's success that we understand what the business wants." The challenges facing the NFSA are common and widespread at many organizations, says Steve Duplessie, Senior Analyst at research firm Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. That's because more and more files are being digitized, meaning media organizations of all types are facing more complexity and rising costs. "Historically, people took things offline, since it costs far less to keep something on a shelf than on spinning media," he explains. "But now, everything must be online. So CIOs will be challenged to extract value [which they previously didn't have to do] just to recoup the cost of keeping everything available." The NFSA is unique, though, Waterhouse says. "Our job does not end with digitizing information. We must still preserve the original heritage analog and digital physical and virtual formats that we have acquired, and this requires complex and unique software, such as Media Asset Management systems with powerful search and database functionality." What the NFSA's business side wants goes far beyond the mere copying and storing of files. It also wants the archive's files to become shareable, usable and exploitable beyond the NFSA's traditional film screenings and traveling exhibitions. "With the advent of mobile, social computing and ubiquitous information access, the imperative is not about holding the fort or defending the castle," Waterhouse says. "It's about harnessing technology forces and even social and behavioral dynamics that are happening outside our traditional closed data centers." To that end, Waterhouse and the NFSA aim to make their audiovisual archives available to both Australian citizens and producers of film, television and radio — and for their personal as well as professional use. One of her first projects aims to create new mobile and Web components that will let anyone access and search the archive's collection. In another project, the NFSA is making its digital assets available via social media channels, including YouTube, Flickr and the archive's own blog. Site visitors are already enjoying this new access. Last year, the site's soundrelated files experienced more than 57,500 visits — a nearly 55 percent increase over the previous year. Waterhouse and her team are committed to increasing mobile access to NFSA websites. Current mobile applications let visitors search and view content based on title, format, genre, decade created and keywords or tags; the main site also features interpretive notes and external contributions. The mobile app lets anyone visit the site using a smartphone or tablet. And to further extend the site's functionality for mobile devices, the NFSA has created a geolocation option for the mobile app called Near Me. The app lets users search for works by the locations at which they were filmed, recorded or set. Waterhouse is even building a new team to work on related digital and mobile projects. Earlier this year, the NFSA also posted an online exhibition to mark the centenary of the Australasian Antarctic exploration of 1911-1914. The project included six films selected from the national archive, along with research papers and other supporting documents and media. The Storage Connection Another important technology for the NFSA's business mission is storage innovation. Waterhouse is now leading an NFSA project to upgrade and enhance its storage systems. It's a collaborative project, involving IT and the organization's preservation and technical group. While the archive's storage infrastructure currently has 200 terabytes in its archive system, a new film scanner that's being used to digitize movies from 16-millimeter film will be generating in excess of 500 terabytes a year when fully operational. This will boost the organization's overall storage burden to 7.5 petabytes within five years, Waterhouse says. Separately, the NFSA is working diligently to convert content stored on two-inch videotapes into digital files. The issue is timing. While the archive's preservation and technical group would like the tape-to-digital transfers completed within the next five years, Waterhouse acknowledges that at the current rate — even with new tools and software — the work could take more like 30 years. One complementary solution to the continued adoption of new technologies is to work with external partners, or "innovation networks" as Waterhouse refers to them; there's that much to digitize. Another top technical issue, given the rarity of many of the materials in the NFSA archives, is backups. A hardware failure could possibly compromise the integrity of a culturally significant asset. The NFSA's own preservation practices require that it always maintain at least three digital copies of each digital media item in 2013 • SMART ENTERPRISE 19

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