Since 2012, HSBC has been scoping and implementing a comprehensive digital preservation project, based around a customised in-house digital repository provided by Preservica, which interacts with a cataloguing management tool. HSBC currently has over 5.5TB of digitised information, and has set up a dedicated online resource to put digitised records online next year.

James Mortlock, Head of HSBC’s Digital Archives Team, describes his organisation’s path to digital preservation.

What is your role in your organisation?

My role primarily involves managing the design, enhancement and implementation of HSBC’s Digital Archive System, which we launched in 2015. I am responsible for developing HSBC Archives’ Digital Preservation Strategy and ensuring the seamless management of both physical and digital records within one system. I lead the Digital Archives Team which is responsible for maintaining a platform to allow the collection and preservation of digital records from across the bank’s global locations.

What kinds of records do you keep?

We keep a huge amount of records here, including the history of the HSBC Group and its predecessor banks, the strategic history of the organisation, its records and evidence of key strategic decisions, and we also have a legacy collection which has a wide range of material from various branches.

There are the items you would expect such as financial records, and a lot of statutory records like board minutes, which legally have to be held for the life of the company. We also have some items of real historic and cultural interest too relating to social clubs like the Midland Bank Flying Club in the 1920s and staff magazines.

How many people are in your team?

I head up the Digital Archives Team in London and have a Digital Archivist and a Digital Projects Archivist in the UK, as well as some dedicated IT support. We do not just collect and ingest material, we are also in charge of maintaining and enhancing the system. We are trying to normalise the process of digital archiving within the organisation. When a new joiner starts we make sure they are trained and we try to integrate digital cataloguing as an everyday step.

We ensure the system runs efficiently and troubleshoot future problems. Archiving is a Head Office function in all the main regions. As well as London, Hong Kong has an archive centre with a client-facing archives gallery which is very important to them. The Paris collection is focused on HSBC France and the New York office looks after the history of the bank in the Americas.

Describe your path to digital preservation

We began scoping the digital preservation project in 2011 and started development work in 2012, launching in 2015. At the time of launch, we had 500GB of information – now it is over 5.5TB and growing. A lot of the digitisation was carried out for the bank’s 150th Anniversary in 2015, and we are currently underway with a project to set up a dedicated online resource to put over 5000 digitised records online next year.

We have a system based around digital repository provided by Preservica which is customised and rests in-house on our own architecture rather than on the cloud. The system also interacts with our cataloguing management tool, CALM. It is a complex system as we are a global organisation – the archives teams are located in London, Hong Kong, New York and Paris – and we needed a secure system because some of the records we save are business records and we need to ensure that our stakeholders are confident in our ability to preserve and securely store those digital records.

Most of our records now are born digital and range from internal communications material to videos from the group internet site, and shared working documents from SharePoint. We do not keep customer records in any way, data protection law governs that and we have no interaction with them. We have a lot of the information you would expect to see in a busy office: PDFs, spreadsheets and design files from the marketing teams, which are the most complex format. HSBC is a huge organisation, though, and we can only capture a small number of what we produce so we have to be strategic.

What have been the barriers to digital archiving?

We are lucky in that we have always had very positive support from senior management. We presented a positive case to them – not just focusing on the regulatory risks of losing records, but presenting it as an opportunity to showcase our history.

However in a large organisation such as a bank there are a lot of stakeholders, so we had to do a great deal of preparation to ensure buy-in from everywhere. The biggest challenge was convincing the IT Department. They were worried about the use of open-source software, as banks are very security conscious, but the Preservica tool is very good. It does make use of open-source tools, but they guarantee their use. We have IT and security rules to contend with, and the build and implementation of the system had to take those into account – from how servers were built to how they connected with other systems and used storage.

We could not rely on encryption, because when you encrypt a digital object you are changing it, so we had to put security around the system. Our policy is also based on ensuring long-term access because if the format is no longer supported and you cannot render it, it will be lost, so we look at format risk and migrate copies to newer formats when we need to. We also keep the original as well as the new migration copy, even if we are not able to access it.

How do you engage people with your digital archives?

That is part of the function of the global communications team. We work alongside them and take part in events and engage with the community. We also attempt to engage internally and support a lot of projects such as employee-induction programmes. Next year we also plan to launch a website focusing on our history.

What tips do you have for other organisations on their digital archive journeys?

Connect with your community

The archivist community is very supportive. When we began our project, we worked with people who were ahead of us in their journey, like the Parliamentary Archives, the Wellcome Collection and LSE, all of whom were very generous with their time and willing to provide information. Also, organisations such as The National Archives and Digital Preservation Coalition provide useful updates and excellent training and toolkits for getting started.

Plan ahead

Planning is extremely important – you are probably going to have to compromise within your organisation, but in the first instance write out exactly what you want and need. You may not get all of it right away but it forms the basis for a strong development programme. You will need organisational support and you can’t do effective advocacy if you don’t have a concrete idea of what you want.

Decide how you want to frame your digital preservation system

If you have fewer resources and can’t afford a programme like Preservica, there is an excellent range of open source tools available and you may instead want to spend the money on a software engineer to stitch the various open-source toolkits into a viable system.

Map out your workflows, and what you want your system to do

We wrote out every single step of our plan. Being able to see it on the screen helps you to see where efficiencies can be gained and it can change your approach.

Finally, take one step at a time

Don’t attempt to do everything at once. We made this mistake, and it caused longer development times and forced us into decisions that on reflection we would not have taken had we left some elements until later. Digital archiving is an ongoing process that needs to be planned for, enhanced and developed as you go so taking it step-by-step is crucial.