Boeing plots a digital future

The Boeing Company (Boeing) and its heritage companies have been an integral part of Australia’s defence industry for more than 75 years. Its largest wholly-owned subsidiary in-country, Boeing Defence Australia (BDA), has approximately 2000 employees located at 14 sites across every state and territory (except Tasmania), making managing data no easy feat!

As the organisation moved into the electronic era, it was required to develop a strategy for dealing with a large paper-based archive.
In January 2009, BDA’s off-site storage facility in Brisbane held 8212 archive boxes. Of these, no destruction dates existed for 4760 boxes, there was unknown content in approximately 80 percent and, in most boxes, the contents were not tracked at the record level. The annual cost of maintaining this data was approximately $A30,000, even thought the real value of this data to the company was extremely minimal.

The potential impact of not being able to locate - or inadvertently destroying - a vital record can be catastrophic for any company.
As a leader in the aerospace industry, BDA’s projects are cutting edge and include the F/A-18 Hornet upgrade program, the High Frequency Modernisation Project (HFMP), the Vigilare command and control program, and the Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) modification program.

Due to being project-driven, BDA’s records management systems are fairly stovepiped, with no central records management system. This makes it difficult to establish ownership and identify individual records when a project is archived and staff change programs.

In addition, any Australian defence data is subject to specific distribution and storage requirements – resulting in more complex records management processes.

BDA uses MATRIX as its configuration and data management tool, allowing any record archived within MATRIX to be quickly located. MATRIX is an object oriented database that keeps track of where a file is located in the approval lifecycle: CREATED, APPROVED, IN REVIEW, etc.

Finding any medium (such as paper, CD or DVD) is easy as it is simply the location attribute of the medium object.
But what about functions within BDA that don’t use MATRIX? Or older projects and companies - now owned by Boeing - that were paper based?

The problem of the paper archives was first identified in an audit In 2001, however the task of developing an archive solution was seen as a low priority.

So, how did BDA fix this problem? Firstly, an Excel spreadsheet listing each archive box by project was obtained from the off-site storage facility. This was followed by collecting the available metadata (some of which had itself been archived!), trawling through drives, finding lists, talking to key players and inputting all information into the spreadsheet. But there were still big data gaps – with 3753 boxes destroyed at this point there were 3776 boxes remaining with no destruction dates.

The next step was to conduct a risk assessment. Was this a key project? Was it a design, build, repair, or in-service support job? How old was it? What were the likely implications of losing data? Were there any potential occupational health and safety problems that could impact that program?

What were some of the potential legal problems that could arise? Did the contracts department hold the original contracts, or was there a possibility of vital data being located in an unidentified box?

With this in mind, BDA then weighed the cost of recalling each box from the off-site facility, opening it and inspecting the contents. It was decided to destroy, inspect or re-sentence the records.

At the end of the process, BDA’s leadership team was reluctant to authorise the destruction of unknown data, and understandably so considering the nature of the organisation’s projects. It is a brave person who signs on the dotted line to authorise destruction without knowing exactly what was being destroyed!
Moving forwards, the focus was to then allocate responsibility for each account code for the legacy programs to ‘archive focals’. Each focal underwent archival training and was granted access to the off-site storage facility’s website in order to manage stored data.

The focal provided advice on how and what to archive, how to ensure the data was correctly packed and how to maintain archival registers, while encouraging them to review the spreadsheet to identify data to be destroyed. Not only did this reduce costs, but it created a sense of ownership through assigning responsibility for legacy data.

What did BDA achieve through archiving? While some data was eventually destroyed, the central register was made available on the company intranet, providing greater awareness of archive contents.

One area for improvement that would have alleviated the problem would have been to gain the support of the leadership team earlier in the process. However, in spite of this, BDA has a coordinated company-wide approach to the long-term storage of data for the first time.

BDA also reviewed its Master Records Retention Schedule (MRRS), which required updating. Upon investigation, it was found Boeing has an excellent MRRS available online, as well as a team of experts and consultants available for assistance. The MRRS contains descriptive metadata to guide the user to identify and sentence the record correctly.

As a result, BDA is now mapping the functions in Australia in line with the MRRS, identifying each series of documents and document types.. Once this is completed, the result will be referred to Boeing’s consultants to review legal and other requirements to ensure that the retention period is correct.
By solving the legacy data issue, BDA changed the organisation’s culture to accept the master record as being the electronic copy. Data is approved and distributed electronically with the resulting signed paper records archived immediately and stored off-site in line with BDA’s disaster recovery strategy.

Electronic archiving

Implementing an electronic records management system does involve changes. BDA is starting to investigate options for electronic archiving, and is stressing the importance for data owners to understand that backing up the network is not archiving.
BDA is probably not large enough to warrant implementing a full digital archiving system, such as the Victorian Government has done with its leading edge VERS program for the Public Records Office of Victoria.

Instead, BDA is implementing PDF/A as the company standard for scanned documents. While this increases IT infrastructure costs (as PDF/A files are approximately three times as large as a normal PDF file), the PDF/A files are self-sufficient. This means they do not need other programs to open, and this is essential criteria for long-term electronic storage.

For records classified as ‘important’ or above, the native format will be retained with a PDF/A copy available and the paper copy stored at off-site archives. From a conservative archival point of view, this will protect BDA’s data.

In summary, most organisations manage paper well but have no archiving strategies for electronic information - which is the vast bulk of data. At BDA, the issues are ensuring the native file format can be read in the future, the equipment required to access the data remains available, and selecting a mechanism suitable for long term storage. To focus on electronic storage, BDA set aside the legacy paper issue and adopted PDF/A as the archiving standard in the first step towards digital archiving.

Records management is progressing well and while economic conditions might not be conducive to large capital expenditure at present, the goals and strategy are in place. To-date, archiving costs have been substantially reduced with company-wide processes and trained staff to handle archiving.
Digital archiving options are being investigated, and the BDA leadership team is fully supportive and confident data records are being managed effectively and protected.

Jennifer Padman joined Boeing Defence Australia in 2001. During the past eight years, Jennifer has worked across several data and configuration management roles and is currently the Data Management Lead for Boeing in Australia.