Durable helped a prominent civil rights law firm bring its history into the digital age by integrating Dynamics 365 and Preservica, streamlining the digitization of archival records and saving money.
One of the nation’s leading civil rights law firms has an extensive and exceptionally valuable collection of archival records (some of which reside in the United States Library of Congress) that chronicles the organization’s leading role in the legal history of the civil rights movement in the United States since 1940.
The firm has big plans for its archives. In addition to making archival records far more accessible to its staff, it intends to share publicly viewable records on a new website about the legal fight for civil rights. The website will allow visitors to search and browse the archives and provide context and the firm’s perspective with long- and short-format stories, videos, oral histories, and a timeline.
The foundation for all this work is an ambitious, multi-year project to digitize paper records and store them in Preservica, a Digital Asset Management System (DAM) specifically designed for archival collections. Historical photographs and “born-digital” files will be added to Preservica in time.
Process management and metadata challenges
Ultimately, the firm’s Archives department needed the proper tools to rapidly digitize its archives at a much greater scale and with far greater accuracy and quality control than ever before.
To accomplish its goals, the firm needed to address two primary challenges:
- Its archival records cannot be simply scanned and uploaded. Every document must be examined, cataloged, and reviewed for legal and privacy considerations—such as attorney-client privilege and personally identifiable information. All this work is done by the firm’s team of archivists and internal counsel. The firm did not have process and project software solutions in place that could efficiently handle this complex work at scale.
- As is the case at many organizations, the firm’s data—specifically archival metadata—was spread across multiple disparate systems that could not be integrated.
Process documentation and refinement
After gaining a good understanding of the firm’s data management systems and how they needed to be consolidated, Durable and the firm worked together to document and refine its archive digitization process.
At a high level, the firm follows a fairly standard five-step process to digitize paper records (shown above), but its subprocesses are unique to the firm, the nature of its archives, and the legal profession.
For each step, Durable helped the firm identify ways to gain significant efficiencies through automation. A few notable examples include:
- Automating the process of creating building passes to move boxes in and out of the firm offices
- Automating digitization manifests provided to digitizing suppliers
- Adding metadata to files before they are digitized
- Cascading metadata to eliminate repetitive data entry
- Single-click upload of large batches of files to Preservica
Another important aspect of this work was identifying opportunities for archivists to delegate work that does not require their professional expertise. Examples of this include retrieving, receiving, and returning boxes to storage facilities, various quality control steps, and preparing progress reports.
Dynamics 365 integrated with Preservica
Microsoft Dynamics 365 was a natural choice for the firm for a number of reasons, including its expandability, extensibility, ease of integration, and ability to accommodate very large datasets. Most compelling was its “out-of-the-box” capability to handle all of the firm's data and functional requirements in a single solution. This included:
- Metadata - Consolidation of box information, collections, files, case information, permissions, etc.
- Workflow - Process automation, activity tracking, user notes, transmittals, manifests, etc.
- Archival objects - Efficient processing of archival records and their metadata by integrating with Preservica
- Audit trail and security - Active Directory integration, record of changes, system usage, etc.
Durable integrated Preservica with Dynamics using a “controller” layer that also connects to Azure blob storage. Paper-to-digital files are uploaded by the digitization supplier to blob hot-tier storage. After processing, Dynamics automatically copies .pdf files to Preservica and moves all files (.pdf and .tif) to blob cold-tier storage. The controller abstracts the external systems into one unified API, providing long-term flexibility to add or replace internal or external solutions as required.
The firm now has the ability to review and update digitized content, assess and protect confidentiality, and view, redact, archive, and deploy content all from within the Dynamics environment.
This has the net effect of lowering the cost of digitization. Financial models demonstrate that even with a modest 25% increase in productivity, the firm will lower the cost per digitized paper record by about 15%, including all related costs, such as the design and development of the Dynamics solution and the cost of digitization. This translates to a potential net savings of almost $1 million over five years.