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Finnish government scraps paper and digitises archives

The government in Finland is digitising 94 shelf kilometres of documents to save millions of euros and make the information easier to access

The Finnish government has announced plans to digitise its document archives by 2030 and only accept digital formats in future. This is expected to cut archiving costs by over €60m and improve data availability.

“In our current digitisation work we don’t replace the original paper versions with digital versions, both are stored,” Mikko Eräkaski, development director at the National Archives, told Computer Weekly. “The new approach is that all the original documents will be destroyed after they have been digitised.”

The digitisation project is led by the National Archives of Finland, which is responsible for storing all government agency documents marked for permanent archiving status. It has been digitising archives since the early 2000s, but the new decision will speed up the process through the disposal of paper documents. Exemptions for this can be made on cultural, historical or juridical grounds.

Digitisation is no small feat, as Finnish government agencies are estimated to house 94 shelf kilometres of documents that are waiting to be transferred to the National Archives. But for Sanni Grahn-Laaksonen, Finland’s minister of education, the benefits are clear.

“Digitisation reduces costs and makes materials easier to access for researchers and other users. It is easy to make searches in digital material and, for example, artificial intelligence can be used to make new connections from the material because previously dispersed information is easier to aggregate,” she said in a statement. “We save time, effort, money and, of course, the environment.”

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Currently, the Finnish government spends €30.1m annually on archiving. By moving to digital storage, the National Archives estimates reduced storage space would cut costs by €54.2m by 2029, and a further €47m to €87m would be saved in personnel expenses.

When the costs of the digitisation project are taken into account, the net savings could total €63.6m over the next 10 years.

These costs will be clarified by early 2018 as the National Archives finalises the project planning. This includes assessing its IT equipment and infrastructure needs, particularly for content recognition and text analysis to make the information easily accessible.

“Digitisation reduces costs and makes materials easier to access for researchers and other users”
Sanni Grahn-Laaksonen, minister of education, Finland

“One big challenge is the amount of material, and another is to ensure the information is kept intact and reliable throughout the digitisation process, as the original documents will be destroyed after digitisation,” said Eräkaski.

All scanned documents will go through text recognition for analysis and metadata purposes. They will also need to be automatically separated as documents with classified status or personal information and those that can be made publicly available online.

The digitisation project is expected to run between 2018 and 2030. Digitisation of public services is one the Finnish government’s key projects and also contributes towards its €1bn savings goal across all the public services by 2029.

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