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Electronic records management guidelines

Business Case


As more and more records with long-term value are ‘born digital’ the need for digital preservation business cases has multiplied.  A business case is ‘a package of information, analysis, and recommendations” that covers a particular issue.  Business cases must be tailored to meet specific needs and address concerns of all stakeholders.   A handful of state governments have put together a business case for digital preservation that can be used as a model.  Reviewing these business cases can be helpful; however variables will undoubtedly require you to modify the business case to address your particular situation and needs.   

This resource does not try to build a business case for you, but introduces the main elements of a strong business case, both general and specific issues to consider, and background information on what you may need to think about when developing your own.  This is followed by a resource list that includes links to sample business cases.  Together these pieces provide you with a starting point and a path to follow when developing your own business case. 


Legal Framework
For more information on the legal framework you must consider when developing a business case, refer to the Legal Framework chapter of these guidelines and the Minnesota State Archives’ Preserving and Disposing of Government Records.


Key Concepts

As you develop your business case, you will need to be familiar with:


Essential Elements of a Business Case

A business case provides a roadmap to understanding a current situation and where you want to go.  The Center for Technology in Government lists the following items as essential elements of a strong business case in Making Smart IT Choices: Understanding Value and Risk in Government IT Investments.

1. A brief, compelling, service-oriented problem statement.

2. A mission statement or vision of the future that addresses the problem.

3. A description of the specific objectives to be achieved.

4. A description and rationale for your preferred approach.

5. A statement of the benefits that address the concerns of all relevant stakeholders.

6. Measures for gauging improved performance or progress toward each objective.

7. A statement of the likely risks of your initiative and how they will be addressed. 

8. A basic plan of work with a timeline and key milestones.

9. A project management plan and names and roles of key managers.

10. Alternatives considered and how they would or would not work.

11. Cost estimates and potential sources of funding.

12. Opposing arguments and your responses to them.

These elements should all be addressed and answered with your own situation in mind.  Chapter Three of the same document by the Center for Technology in Government provides suggestions of data sources for each element as well as additional details, context, and examples for each.  Chapter 4 goes into more detail on how to present your business case to stakeholders and various audiences.   


Key Issues to Consider

Business cases are used to show the value of an initiative.  Listed below are some of the things to think about when developing a business case for digital preservation.

Analyze, and then prioritize:  When developing a business case, analyze your current environment, wants and needs, and then begin to set priorities.  If you set priorities first, you might not be able to see the big picture.  Priorities are allowed to change.  Set your goals accordingly. 

Appropriate solution to task and environment: Make sure that the solution you are promoting is appropriate for the task at hand and is a good fit for the current and future environment.  You will be able to delve into this when you explore element number four (your chosen solution) and element number ten (alternative solutions).  

Integration into routine: The easier the proposed solution is able to be integrated into current routines, the more likely it will be accepted.  Don’t make major changes unless you already have buy-in from stakeholders.  Think about timeframes.  Think about who will be affected both internally and externally.  Make sure to emphasize how changes will benefit everyone affected. 

Cost control: Often business case proposals include an argument for controlling costs.  How will the proposed idea prove to be a cost benefit over time?  How will it save money or make the organization more efficient?  Remember costs can be measured not only in dollars but in staff time and other resources.  It is important to be able to make cost estimates as well as point to other sources of funding if available or necessary. 

Use values: Use value is often a driver in digital preservation.  As a content provider/creator, you must ensure that what people want is accessible now as well in the future.  Often, the more people use something, the more value it has.  Use value can make a strong case for long-term digital preservation. 

Risk analysis: What are the risks involved in the proposal? How will these be addressed?  (elements seven and twelve)  In addition to possible risks in moving forward, what are the risks if this proposal is not adopted?  What future challenges will be introduced?  Who will be affected?  How?  What will the associated costs be?

Collaboration and partnership: Is there any opportunity to collaborate or partner with agencies or organizations that are in a similar position or share similar goals?  Is there anyone that you can learn from? Who can you use as a successful example or model to follow? 


Specific issues to consider for digital preservation are listed below.  (Many of these might also serve as the catalyst of your digital preservation business case.) 

Authentication: State government records are often consulted for official or legal purposes.  Any digital preservation solution must also be able to address the authentication of the documents.  Being able to prove that a digital record is authentic is essential for not only the public good but to avoid legal troubles. 

Disaster recovery/Continuing of Operations Plan (COOP): Consider how digital preservation fits in with the organization’s disaster recovery and continuing of operations plans. Are your digital records included in these plans?  Will you need to access any digital records immediately after a disaster?  Will you be able to?  

Preservation equals access and use over time: Preservation ensures that records are available for access and use over a long period of time.  Who uses your records, both internally and externally?  Who would be affected if records were not preserved?  Continued access reinforces the value of records. 

Retention/disposition policies: The time period that records should be accessible depends on retention and disposition schedules.  Holding on to materials unnecessarily costs money, takes up valuable space, and may cause legal troubles. 

Data sharing/interoperability: If looking to design or implement a new system, you need to see how the proposed system will fit in with current systems.  Are there any data architecture requirements for your organization or agency?  Does a centralized IT structure exist?  At what level (state, county, local, or institution)?  Is a goal to be able to share data across agencies or organizations?  If so, you must have an understanding of all involved systems before you implement anything new.  The more a system can interact with other systems, the more value you can get from the data.  Sharing data also often increases value. 

Public access/protection of non-public info: If sharing or providing ‘public’ access to data or records, how will you handle the protection of non-public information or data?  What legal mandates or statutory requirements affect you?  You need to be able to address these.  There must be controls in place to restrict access to non-public data while providing access to public data. 

Accountability/audit-ability: Making records available often increases accountability and audit-ability.  As a government agency, being accountable may be a high priority. 

Going green: Moving from paper to digital records is sometime part of a ‘going green’ initiative. 

In addition to exploring the above issues, the article “Digital Archiving From Fragmentation to Collaboration” is recommended as it addresses not only sample digital preservation case studies, but also the technological, social and political issues surrounding digital archiving in general.  It provides a good framework for putting many different types of issues in context. 

Discussion Questions

  • Have we set priorities for preserving and providing access to digital files?
  • Is the solution we are proposing appropriate?  Can it be integrated into current routines?
  • What risks are involved in our proposal?  How can we address these?
  • Are there opportunities to collaborate with others?
  • Have we considered all relevant legal requirements?


Download a copy of the Business Case Key Issues to Consider and Discussion Questions. Download Adobe Acrobat icon

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Electronic Records Management Guidelines, March 2012, Version 5.

Links verified March 12, 2012.