Impact of Tangible Cost Asset (TCA) Accounting on Electronic Recordkeeping Practices


by Bruce Miller, MBA, IGP


Back to Sagesse 2022



The purpose of this report is to document specific changes in recordkeeping practices that will be required for a municipality that has fully implemented TCA (Tangible Capital Asset) accounting practices. The changes in recordkeeping will occur in the following areas:

  1. The procedures used to create, identify (label), and file records in physical (paper) form will change.
  2. The procedures used to create, identify (declare) electronic records within a modern EDRMS (Electronic Document & Records Management System) system will change. 
    1. The underlying Retention Schedule (File Plan). There are structural changes required in the retention rules within the schedule.
    2. The EDRMS must present asset data lists to the end users to support proper TCA recordkeeping.

We will assume that all municipalities should/will incorporate these recordkeeping changes, even if they have not yet fully adopted TCA accounting methods, as we assume they will eventually be adopting TCA.

We are assuming that TCA accounting practices are to be applied to a system for managing electronic records. For the purpose of this report, we will assume the EDRMS will be RBR (Rules-Based Recordkeeping) capable. 


Asset An individual, indivisible asset. Also sometimes referred to as a component

Asset Class A set of assets forming a greater whole. For example, Roads is an asset class, comprising all the assets of Roads.

CAC Capital Asset Code (CAC). Unique code or identifier that identifies a particular asset. Can be alpha-numeric or numeric. 

Case A set of related records, typically about a Person, Place, Event, or Thing. The set of records is not considered complete until some triggering event has taken place that defines the end of the business activity. For example, a company with 1,000 employees would typically have 1,000 “cases”, one for each employee that contains all the records for each particular employee over the duration of their employment. Each case contains all of the records for the activity (in this example the employment of the employee), from the beginning of the activity (start of employment) to the end of the activity (termination of employment). 

Case Category A file plan category containing related records about a business activity with a defined end date. Disposition is triggered by an event date that defines the end of the activity, such as “End of Useful Life” (A machine), or “Close of all Legal Matters” (A workplace Accident). For example, employee records might be eligible for disposition 3 years after termination of employment. All records within a case category reach disposition and are processed as a complete, intact group – they are never separated or processed as individual records. In many organizations, 50% or more of all business records are case records.

Category A node in the hierarchical file plan. Denotes a set of records of related activity, i.e. Travel Requisitions. All categories are linked via a child/parent relationship. Each category is designated either as a Case or Administrative category, and is enumerated or labelled with a unique category ID.

Classify The process whereby a document is assigned a category from the file plan (retention schedule). Classification is often part of the Declaration process and can be achieved by the user (manual), or by the system (RBR). Manual classification can be achieved explicitly (the user selects and assigns a category), or implicitly (by virtue of selecting a storage location such as a folder, that matches the subject of the document, and which bears the appropriate category for that document).

Component The smallest, indivisible portion of a linear asset. It cannot be further broken down into parts.

Declare Manage a document as a record. The document is presumed to meet the criteria of a business record, however it may not. A declared document is tracked by the EDRMS, is classified against the file plan, and is immutable (users cannot edit or delete it) to preserve its integrity. It can only be deleted via the formal disposition process.

Disposition As distinguished from Deletion. Formal, structured process of determining what happens to records at the end of their retention period. The process is human-initiated, and the decision as to what is destroyed/transferred is ultimately governed by an approved file plan (retention schedule). A records administrator provides oversight of the process. Approval from originating business units is typically sought prior to physical destruction, and a formal audit trail of disposition is maintained. Disposition yields (3) possible outcomes following the expiration of the retention period:

  1. Destroy 
  2. Transfer to outside agency for permanent archival storage
  3. Unknown. Retain until disposition is known. Some possibilities:
  • Held for legal review
  • In Dispute
  • Disposition simply not yet known or decided

ECM Enterprise Content Management (system). A platform for the management of unstructured documents and data. Examples include Microsoft SharePoint, IBM’s Content Manager, and OpenText’s Content Manager. Most ECM platforms have recordkeeping capabilities.

EDRMS (EDRMS). A business information system in which the records of an organization are created, captured, maintained, and disposed of. Such a system also ensures their preservation for evidential purposes, accurate and efficient updating, timely availability, and control of access to them only by authorized personnel. An EDRMS includes rules and procedures governing the storage, use, maintenance and disposition of records and/or information about records, and the tools and mechanisms used to implement these rules.

An EDRMS delivers specified recordkeeping controls. Most systems can manage electronic and physical records. Many are comprised of general-purpose content management systems that deliver recordkeeping capability. Some are certified compliant with recordkeeping standards such as US DoD 5015.2 or ICA Module 2. An EDRMS can be configured to store exclusively records, however it will typically store all three of the following categories of items:

  • Declared Records
  • Non-Records
  • Non-Declared (unmanaged) records

EOL End of Life. Trigger date that triggers the final retention period for the records. The date on which the asset reaches the end of its useful life. EOL can sometime represent the disposal date of the asset, where the disposal date exceeds the originally-projected asset EOL.

Linear Asset An asset with no defined starting or ending point, and multiple interconnected components, such as a buried pipeline, or systems of roadways. A linear asset must therefore be broken into manageable pieces, each of which will be considered an individual asset

MACL Master Asset Class List. The list of all assets, each asset bearing an identifying code (CAC). This list is presumed to be stored in some corporate database system, such as an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. Examples of such systems may include SAP, JD Edwards, or Microsoft Dynamics. Any list of assets presented within the EDRMS is presumed to be derived from the MACL, either by duplicating the list, or by presenting the MACL within the EDRMS via a software integration between the EDRMS and the ERP system hosting the MACL.

Project A predetermined list of assets that have received budget approval for work to be carried out on the assets. Typically, a project is assigned a G/L code, and a date. 

RBR (Rule-Based Recordkeeping). An automated method of selecting documents to manage as records by defining rules that the targeted documents must meet. Rules typically match documents based on Content Types and/or metadata field values, then declare the document as a record, and classify it against the file plan.

Retention Schedule Also known as a File Plan. The list of approved retention periods and disposition rules for each business activity or subject area within the organization. Typically a hierarchy of business functions broken into specific activities. Driven by legislative obligation (various laws and regulations that apply to the business), and operational corporate policies. Also identifies which records are vital.

TCA Tangible Capital Asset. An asset.


EDRMS is a blend of two core technologies (along with several optional additional technologies). The first is a modern ECM (Enterprise Content Management) platform (which used to be known as document management). This platform forms a digital repository for all electronic records, and provides for advanced searching by content and metadata, security control, version management, workflow automation, and collaboration such as multi-author document editing, and much more. The second technology is recordkeeping capability, often delivered as a set of features within the ECM itself or as a third-party product added to the content management platform.

The records retention schedule underpins both technologies. The retention schedule does more than just feed retention rules to the ECM platform-it actually greatly influences the configuration of the ECM itself. This is necessary for the recordkeeping component to do its job properly.

All modern EDRMS systems incorporate RBR (Rules-Based Recordkeeping) to some extent. RBR is an approach to electronic recordkeeping that automates the recordkeeping functions the end user would normally have to carry out. These functions include identifying which documents are records, when to declare documents as records, and how to classify the documents against the retention schedule. A full and proper EDRMS deployment that fully utilizes RBR capability automates all these end user recordkeeping functions. End users have absolutely no role to play in the declaration or classification of any records. They simply operate the system as an ordinary everyday ECM, without thinking about records management whatsoever. Thanks to RBR however, in the background documents are being declared as records and are being properly classified against the retention schedule, even if the user is blissfully unaware of this.

Modern electronic recordkeeping software can carry out retention and disposition in ways not previously available. Because the records are digital, we have more document-level information to deal with and we can leverage that information to do more granular, more sophisticated, and more flexible retention and disposition. For example, we can apply retention based on the value of documents, we can apply multiple retention rules to a single category, even different types of retention rules within the same category. The software has these amazing retention and disposition capabilities, however we have to tell it what we want it to do. And that’s the job of the retention schedule. If we know what the recordkeeping software is capable of in terms of retention and disposition, then we can write a retention schedule to take full advantage of these powerful new capabilities. A retention schedule that leverages these retention and disposition capabilities is referred to as a “software ready” retention schedule.

A software ready retention schedule is written with the assumption that it will be used within an EDRMS and will take full advantage of the advanced retention and disposition capabilities of the software. Any well-written software ready retention schedule can be used with any modern recordkeeping software, regardless of brand.

Figure 1 shows what a modern EDRMS looks like conceptually. There are three “layers” to an EDRMS:

The retention schedule The software ready retention schedule. This will be divided into case categories and administrative categories. On the left side are two administrative categories (operator rounds, and employee onboarding). On the right are two case categories (union grievances, and safety audits).

ECM structure Often referred to as “information architecture”, the ECM structure consists of all the so-called “libraries”, or places that documents can be stored. Different ECM products have different names for storage locations. Storage locations can be called libraries, folders, cabinets, etc. ECM structure also consists of the metadata, fields of information permanently stored with each document placed in each storage location. There is more to ECM structure than just libraries and metadata, including such things as versioning, security and collaboration, etc. But for now we’re only concerned with libraries and metadata.

RBR rules RBR rules refer to the rules created within the recordkeeping software to automate the recordkeeping processes, namely declaration (which documents are declared as records and when), and which retention rules in the retention schedule get applied to which locations in the ECM structure.

Done properly, the retention schedule massively impacts the ECM structure. Each category in the retention schedule translates to a library in the ECM structure. This library is where users will store documents for that particular category. Both the category and the library bear exactly the same name. Case categories require that the library be subdivided into “cases”, or containers, one for each case. This allows us to group records of each case together, separate from and independently of all other cases.

At the top of the pyramid lies the recordkeeping software and its RBR rules. This is where you define declaration rules such as “if library = “operator rounds” and approved = “yes” then declare”. Retention rules also get defined here, such as “if library = “operator rounds” retention equals true document date +5 years”. The rules need to know what the library names are, and what metadata it can work with.

As you can see, the retention schedule forms the base upon which the ECM is structured. This in turn allows the RBR rules to execute against that structure, as shown in figure 3.

Figure 1 – A Modern EDRMS

Case Records

The retention schedule must differentiate between case and so-called “administrative” record categories. Each category in the retention schedule therefore is either a case category or an administrative category. In most organizations today, about 60% of all records belong to case categories. The best way to understand case records structure is with the help of an example. Suppose you have 1000 contracts in existence at any one time. Each contract has a contractor name, the contract value, an expiration date, a contract type, etc. This data will not change among all the documents in any given case. Each contract theoretically could have an expiration date different from those of all other contracts. All contracts would have a single retention rule similar to “keep five years after contract end date, then destroy”. Although there is only one single rule applied to all 1000 contracts, that single rule has 1000 different trigger dates, i.e. 1000 different expiry dates. The recordkeeping software must therefore track each of these 1000 dates.

Let’s look at this from the perspective of an EDRMS end user. A user has a document related to a particular contract. The document may be an email suggesting several changes to the draft of the contract. The user must specify which of the 1000 contracts the document is related to. How is this accomplished? The user must have a way to choose from among the 1000 contracts. How this is done can vary among different ECM systems but the most common would be a simple drop-down list of all 1000 contracts, as shown in figure 2. Each contract has a unique name, and the user must select one of the 1000 contracts. The ECM will have a library known as “contracts”. That library will be further subdivided into 1000 case containers, each bearing a unique name of one of the 1000 contracts. This is a good example of how the retention schedule shapes the ECM structure. The two have to work in concert, and only then can the RBR rules be applied to the records within these libraries.

Figure 2 – Contract Selection

TCA Overview

Tangible capital assets (assets) are non-financial assets having physical substance that:

  • Are held for use in the production or supply of goods and services for rental to others for administrative purposes or for the development, construction, maintenance or repair of other tangible capital assets;
  • Have useful economic lives extending beyond an accounting period;
  • Are used on a continuing basis; and
  • Are not for resale in the ordinary course of operations

The diagram that follows shows typical municipal TCAs:

Figure 3 – Asset Classification

With the asset accounting approach, municipalities now:

  • Identify each asset by class/category
  • Identify a current and ongoing value of that asset
  • Continuously track the current value of each asset by tracking the funds and work invested in the asset each year.

The financial statements must now disclose, for each major category of asset and in total:

  • Costs at the beginning and end of the period;
  • Additions in the period;
  • Disposals in the period;
  • The amount of any write-downs in the period;
  • The amount of amortization of costs of asset for the period;
  • Accumulated amortization at the beginning and end of the period
  • Net carrying amount at the beginning and end of the period.

As shown in the table below, each of the assets has a cost assigned to it each year. Anything the municipality does to that asset that affects its value has to be tracked, so as to show an increase or decrease in its value. This means the Finance people need to associate work activities with each individual asset. This in turn means that the records generated by the activity, which support the work carried out on these assets, must also be associated with each individual asset.

A typical Asset Inventory Sheet is shown in Appendix 2. A Property Record Card is shown in Appendix 3. These are typical of the documents used to record and track assets. These days, asset data, which is usually voluminous in nature, is recorded in modern ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems.

Recordkeeping Implications

The following are the major impacts on recordkeeping as a result of TCA Accounting practices: 

Asset Classification There must be a clear means of identifying (naming) Tangible Capital Assets that recordkeeping is aware of.

TCA Records Identification There must be a means whereby a given record can be related to (associated with) an asset.

Retention Rule Structure The retention schedule rules must be structured in a certain way to accommodate appropriate retention for assets.

Asset List Synchronization The master list of assets must be synchronized with the corresponding list in the EDRMS.

EDRMS Configuration The host EDRMS must be configured with user selection lists and other metadata characteristics in order to support TCA recordkeeping.

Asset Types and Classification

Assets are loosely grouped into Infrastructure and Non-Infrastructure assets, as shown below:



Facilities (buildings)

Waste and Storm Water Management (WSW)

Water Treatment and Distribution (WTD)

Parks and Playgrounds (sometimes referred to as Land Improvements)




Infrastructure assets can be considered to be those assets that are in, attached to, or represent improvements upon, the land (such as parks). Activities carried out upon these assets generate records that document these activities. In an asset setting, these documents (records) must be associated with each asset so the finance people can determine how much money was spent on a particular asset, and what impact that activity had on the asset. Furthermore, certain selected records need to be preserved for the life of that asset in order to support Finance’s claim as to the value of the asset. 

It’s obviously too general simply to say “the asset”. A municipality would have a network of hundreds of miles/KM of roads, or several miles/KM of buried pipeline. These types of assets are referred to as Linear Assets. Under TCA rules, each asset is broken down into individual components, each of which are indivisible. These components are treated in isolation of each other component. It is important to understand how assets are divided up into components. It is a simple breakout of an asset into its components parts. Each municipality will have its own particular approach to the breakout of its assets – there is no single “right way” to define it. We will list some examples of typical breakouts. 

Let’s start with Roads. How do we treat a large systems of roadways as an asset? We break it down into its component parts, as shown:

Figure 4 – Road Segmentation

Each road is named, in our case Road 1 and Road 2. The road is then divided into Segments, segments 1-4 as shown in our example. Each segment is then broken into individual components. Note for instance that Road 2 segment 2 (R2S2) has a concrete sidewalk, whereas Road 1 Segment 1 (R1S1) has a pavement sidewalk. TCA accounting needs to know this distinction, as it will place a lower value on the sidewalk for R1S1 compared to the sidewalk for R2S2. In addition, it tells us that a repair or maintenance will be required sooner on the sidewalk for R1S1 compared to the sidewalk for R2S2. This is the inherent benefit of TCA accounting – by breaking down a large, complex (and often aging) asset into individual components, the municipality can better understand and budget maintenance, and make better decisions based on an accurate valuation of the assets. 

As mentioned earlier, different municipalities will have somewhat different approaches to how they break down an asset, what they name the individual pieces, and how many levels they choose to utilize in this breakdown. Let’s take Facilities as an example. Below are shown four facilities:

Building 1 (a stadium)

Building 2 (a recreation centre)

Building 3 (a fire hall)

Building 4 (an animal shelter)

A facility may be broken down as follows:

Each of the two facilities (buildings) has been broken down into its component parts. Suppose the washrooms in both buildings 1 and 2 are renovated, via a single contract. That means that four washrooms (2 in each building) were renovated. This renovation activity affected 4 individual assets, i.e. the four washrooms. The records generated by the specifications for the work, the contract selection and award, the construction, and payment, all relate to the following four assets:

Building 1 washroom 1
Building 1 washroom 2
Building 2 washroom 1
Building 2 washroom 2

MACL Synchronization

When an EDRMS user declares an asset-related document by placing it into the EDRMS as a record, they must have a means of selecting the appropriate asset, such as:

Vehicle X from the list of vehicles

Pump X from the list of Water Distribution Pumps

Road segment X from the list of road segments

This list must obviously be presented within the EDRMS. It must also be current (up to date) with the MACL. Remember that the MACL “lives” in the ERP system, not the EDRMS. If the MACL is extracted from the ERP system and displayed in the EDRMS via a custom integration between the EDRMS and the ERP system hosting the MACL, the EDRMS is not storing a duplicate of the MACL. Inside the EDRMS, the EDRMS is merely querying the ERP system and presenting the MACL. If, however the MACL is stored in the EDRMS as a duplicate, the MACL and the duplicate list in the EDRMS will eventually differ, as changes are made to the MACL. In this case, there must be a means by which the MACL and the EDRMS can be synchronized, either continuously in real time, or periodically (e.g. every 24 hours). This means that:

  1. When a new CAC is added to the MACL, the EDRMS asset list must be updated.
  2. When Finance changes the EOL of an asset, the Records Manager must be made aware of it so they can change the trigger date in the asset’s retention rule.

In a small municipality with limited IT resources, this synchronization will have to occur manually, i.e. Finance and the Records Manager must keep each other informed of changes as they occur. If the Master Asset Class List and the EDRMS fall out of sync over time, the entire recordkeeping process is no longer TCA-compliant. In a larger municipality with a larger MACL, and more IT resources, there are many ways to build custom software integration solutions that will automatically update the retention rules automatically as a result of changes to the MACL.

The MACL is the master list – the authoritative list of assets. Put another way, the retention schedule and the ECM Asset Lists (used for end user selection) are both subservient to the MACL. The retention schedule and the ECM Asset List must somehow keep up with changes in the MACL. A “change” means an addition to, a deletion from, or a modification to an existing MACL entry. This sets up a three-way synchronization challenge as illustrated below:

Whenever a change is made to the MACL, both the Asset List (in the ECM), and Retention Schedule (Assets IDs and EOLs) must be updated accordingly with the changes. Worse still, there is a strong interdependence between the retention schedule and the SharePoint Asset Lists. The RBR rules contain explicit field values for assets. Therefore, the RBR rules can only work if the Asset field values are being presented in the ECM

Every time the MACL changes, these changes need to be communicated to IT so they can update the ECM Asset List, and to Records Management so they can update the retention categories, including any changes in the EOLs. This could represent a great deal of manual data entry. In a larger municipality this could approach a full-time job just for the data entry. The solution is a custom integration between the ERP system and the EDRMS as illustrated below:

This integration could take the form of a custom integration that runs in real time, or periodically, (e.g. at midnight each night). The MACL could be an asset management application such as WorkTech, or it could be as simple as a spreadsheet. Each time there is an asset change, the integration software would take the actions as shown in the table below:

Physical Records

How would TCA recordkeeping be handled with physical (paper) records)? The same approach as used in electronic would have to be used for paper:

  • Each paper document would have to be filed in a folder with same labelling as called for in the electronic system. Each label would have to bear a CAC number, drawn from the Master Asset List.
  • The records would have to be marked with the appropriate TCAS status. This means TCAS records must be physically segregated from the remaining records in the category.

The paper system would in this case follow the electronic. The electronic system is presenting the choices to the end user, who will have to follow through and label the documents and folders appropriately. With physical records, users will need access to paper copies of the following lists in order to properly classify (file) records:

Retention Schedule

Master Asset Class List

Project List (for project cases)

The retention schedule will generally not change very often, however the Master Asset Class List and the Project list could change quite frequently. If this is the case, it would be best if the users used the computer just to look up appropriate values in these lists, instead of having to rely on paper copies that could quickly get out of date.

Using TCA

Appendix 1 shows a high-level view of how records are handled in an asset-compliant setting. If the record being declared describes an activity that has affected a specific named asset, then the process shown on the right-hand side of the diagram is applied. We refer to this as an ARM (Asset Repair & Maintenance) record. If the record is not dealing with a repair or maintenance, then there are three possibilities on the left-hand side of the diagram as shown:

Construction of New Asset Building of a new asset or group of assets. This would only apply to assets that have to be built, i.e. roads, facilities, storm drains, and land improvements. It does not apply to assets that have to be acquired, such as equipment or fleet. The user has to select the secondary ACS (Asset Construction), specify the asset class to which the activity pertains, then select a case project. A case project will typically be a capital-funded construction project. All construction projects are cases.

Planning/Management Activities related to the general planning and overall management of the assets, such as long-term plans and forecasts, estimates for future funding, etc. The user has to select the secondary APM (Asset Planning & Management), specify the asset class to which the activity pertains, then select a specific named asset.

Operations Regular operation of the assets, such as snow clearing (roads), window cleaning and janitorial services (buildings/facilities), leasing (land, buildings), inspections, etc. The user has to select the secondary AOP (Asset Operations), specify the asset class to which the activity pertains, then select a specific named asset.

Suppose a record is about a repair on a specific asset – a road segment for example. The repair applies to a specific named asset (the road segment), so the right-hand side of the diagram applies. It is an ARM record. First the user must select the asset class, in this case Roads. Then, from within the asset class of Roads, they have to select a specific (named) asset, for instance Maple Street Segment 2. It’s possible that for some reason, the asset is not available in the selection list. If so, the software will have to notify the Records Manager of the need for this asset, and the user will have to wait and try again later.

Assuming the asset appears in the list, the user selects it. If the user happens to be a designated administrative user, the software can ask explicitly if this record indicates activity that results in a betterment of the asset. This would apply to very few users who are entrusted with the knowledge and motivation to answer this question appropriately. We will assume however that most of the time, this is a non-privileged user not trained to properly answer the question.

Now the user must select a document type, such as:


Drawing, As-Built

Drawing, Final




The Document Type is a mandatory document metadata field. Each of these document types is defined in advance and presented to the user as a limited selection – they have to identify the appropriate document type. The definition of each document type specifies whether the document type represents TCAS documents, or not (this is an internal system attribute or field). By selecting the appropriate document type therefore, we now know if the document is a TCAS record or not. If TCAS, the EDRMS will assign a retention period of EOL + X years. If the document is non-TCAS, it will be assigned a retention period of X years. 

Suppose however the record is a plan specifying which roads to repair in the coming summer months. This document does not affect a specific (named) asset. It is therefore an APM (Asset Planning & Management) record. The user will go to the APM section of the file plan, then select an asset class, in this case Roads. The record’s classification is “APM-Roads”. Roads is the primary level, Planning & Management is the secondary level. The retention period will be (typically) X years.

A record would follow a similar process if it were about routine operations of an asset. Suppose the document was a plan for road snow clearing. This does not affect the asset itself – it is purely an operational activity. The user would go to the ROADS section of the file plan, then select the activity “Operations”. The record’s classification is “Roads – Operations”. Roads is the primary level, Operations is the secondary level. The retention period will be (typically) X years.

Appendix 1

TCA Usage

 Appendix 2

Asset Inventory Sheet

Appendix 3

Property Record Card

About the Author

Bruce Miller, MBA, IGP is a world leading expert on electronic recordkeeping. He is an independent consultant, an author, and an educator. Widely regarded as the inventor of modern electronic recordkeeping software, he pioneered the world’s first commercial electronic recordkeeping software in 1989. In 1997 he achieved the world’s first e-Records software certification against the US DoD 5015.2-STD standard, and has since presided over several successful software certifications. In 1999 he developed the world’s first e-Records software engine for business software. That year he received ARMA Canada’s National Capital Region’s Ted Ferrier Award of Excellence for his contribution to the field of records management. Bruce’s software was the first technology in the world to be certified against the revised 5015.2 June 2002 standard. In 2002 his company was acquired by IBM, where he served for three years as IBM’s global e-Records Strategy and Business Development Executive. At IBM he was honoured as a Technical Leader, one of only 439 out of 360,000 IBM employees. Mr. Miller is the recipient of the prestigious 2003 Emmett Leahy Award, considered the highest international recognition given to professionals in the field of information and records management. His book “Managing Records in Microsoft SharePoint 2010” was an ARMA best seller, and the second edition was released in October 2015. Bruce holds a Diploma in Electronics Engineering Technology, a Masters in Business Administration from Queen’s University, and is a certified Information Governance Professional. Learn more about Bruce and his consulting practice at

The Strange Case of Dr. Digitization and Mr. Film: Preservation of Film Records in a Digital Medium


by Oscar Alonso Aguilera Garcia


Back to Sagesse 2022



Film strip decay is one of the most significant challenges that archivists must confront in the near future. With the renewed interest in and debate surrounding the film preservation in recent years – especially since the adaptation of digital material in the film industry – it is now more important than ever for archivists to clarify and consider new methods for preservation while also exploring the new concepts and new meanings that such methods bring to bear. To that end, this paper proposes that film archiving can go far beyond the traditional concept of preserving history by seeking a more enduring system of conservation that could potentially allow films to be maintained not only in various physical formats but also by way of memory.

By tracing the basic concept of film as evidence of the past, and by considering the relationship between truth, reality and preservation, entirely new modalities might be introduced into the archival space. In the end, however, this paper does not seek to offer a single solution to the problems surrounding digitization and film archiving. Rather, it seeks to begin the process of accepting and adopting new technologies or techniques that will bring to bear new alternatives in the field of preservation.


Film decay – that is, of the original, physical elements – seems to be the main concern in archival studies for film preservation. Film strips are not made to last indefinitely without being properly stored, and even in optimal conditions, they suffer deterioration over time. In the United States of America, only 20 % of the films in the 1910s and 1920s survive in complete form in American archives, and only half of the movies produced before 1950  still exist in their original form (National film Preservation Foundation, n.d., Para 2). Digitization offers many opportunities to rescue otherwise rare films and even keep them profitable for future generations by making it possible to easily screen them worldwide. That being said, many digitization techniques are still in their infancy, such as the transfer of 35 mm film strips to a 4K format for streaming services or the adaptation of 8 mm or16 mm strips into new digital formats that can then be mixed with elements that are digital by nature. Nevertheless, it is essential for people working within the field of film preservation to understand and perhaps seek new ways of approaching and integrating this emerging technology. This might not seem, at first glance, to be an exceptionally sensible claim. The digital camera has become such a ubiquitous filmmaking tool in the modern era that it must seem perfectly logical to conclude that preserving film has only become less challenging over time. The film Suicide Squad (Ayer, D., 2016, USA), for example, was shot using 35 mm film strips that were then converted into a digital format for editing and distribution purposes. This is also a common practice for archival film projects which in recent years have shifted away from converting digital footage to film strips to maintain the projects in their native format and avoid the expense involved in a transfer to a physical format. None of this, of course, should be very surprising. By its very nature, the film industry has always evolved alongside and in conversation with innovations and new technologies. And there has long been a strong connection between movies as a medium of truth and the archival concept of evidence. 

Movies, in essence, are elements of the past. This perception must necessarily guide the daily practice of analysing, selecting, and preserving records, making them accessible and rendering them intelligible to future users. Until the arrival of digitization, the primary conception of “cinema as evidence” was highly physical, since it essentially described a mechanical way to preserve the past that was not subject to distortion in the same way as other types of art. But while digitization has impacted this attitude only slightly, in this essay we propose that film archiving can go far beyond the traditional concept of preserving history by seeking a more enduring system of preservation that could potentially allow films to be preserved not only through physical formats but also as a memory.

Film Preservation, Digitization and Alternatives 

The creation of film archives and the need for film preservation are subjects that should be treated with the utmost seriousness due to the speed at which films decay and the accompanying possibility of losing these invaluable records. The first influential discussions on motion picture longevity can be traced back to communications in the early twentieth century among the motion picture industry’s worldwide primary players, concerning how best to manage their product throughout the production, distribution, and exhibition processes. (Karen F Gracy, 2013b, P. 369) The systems which came about as a result of these conversations certainly represented an essential first step in the archival process, but they tended to extend only as far as the needs of commercialization required, something which remains a constant problem in the film industry. 

Specifically, film exchanges were created as central locations where the film collections belonging to the motion picture companies were available for rental to local exhibitors. Most of them included corporate offices and private screening rooms where said exhibitors – i.e. the owners and operators of domestic movie theatres – could preview and choose movies for rental on a commercial basis. But while the creation of these exchanges represented a useful first step along the path towards long-term preservation, the desire for profit exerted its own counteracting pressures. For an industry that relied on regular, repeat customers, for example, the problem of poorly maintained films was a constant concern. (Karen F., P. 372) With the advent of digital cinema, of course, these two impulses have largely been reconciled. Digital films can be easily and widely accessed by customers and vendors alike without in any way degrading the cinematic medium itself. And thanks to the possibilities inherent in streaming video, the moving image has become the predominant form of communication in the twenty-first century. Modern life, in many ways, would be incomprehensible without photography, video and cinema, all of which can now be retrieved, produced, controlled, and propagated by anyone with access to the internet. (Forbes, D. 2009, P. 37) The opportunities these systems of communication have created for interaction between individuals and the safe and durable creation and storage of new meanings and new memories are quite possible immeasurable.

Digital medium does have inherent problems, however, not the least of which – in common with physical film – is a certain amount of fragility. Just as film strips are subject to degradation and destruction over time, digital film exists in a form that can be corrupted, or lost, or rendered otherwise inaccessible. The first cause of this fragility is that technology moves faster now than it did when film preservation first emerged as a discipline. In less than a decade, current digital film creation and storage methods could easily be rendered obsolete, making it almost impossible to preserve certain artifacts for an extended period of time. Second, digital preservation requires expertise that archivists and filmmakers still do not always possess since many of the concepts and technologies involved are either brand new or still being developed. And third, the way that films are screened can and has changed over time, leading to serious distortions in how people perceive the final product. (Conrad, 2012, P. 31) Even if we thought to adopt the practice of creating physical film copies as backups, modern filmmaking has adopted digital technology so completely – with computer-generated imagery (CGI) demanding the use of digital storage and manipulation – that it ultimately makes more sense to find new digital options instead ignoring them. (Conrad, 2012, P. 37) But despite the impasse that this situation might seem to represent, organizations that recognize the value of archiving audio-visual materials are actively working towards the goal of saving and preserving materials throughout the modern digital media landscape. Even in light of certain legal problems, such as copyright issues and the demands of commercialization, digitization and digital materials are being embraced as offering more solutions than problems, in large part because they offer fast access to records to an extremely broad audience.

Not everyone is equally as enthusiastic about the increasing ubiquity of digital media, however. One concern that has some archivists siding against digitization is the idea that archives would focus their efforts on creating accessible copies rather than protecting the original materials for preservation purposes. Budgeting, of course, is a necessary aspect of archival operations; decisions must be made about how and where money is spent, and there are legitimate concerns among preservationists about how the apparent value of digitization will likely draw resources away from physical preservation.   In time, they feel, this kind of thinking will lead to a standard of practice that favours screening rather than preserving original materials, a shift that will ultimately reduce the quality of available material in an effort to promote wider accessibility. (Gracy, K. 2013a, P. 369) Granting that digitization does also offer the possibility of screening without using or affecting the physical record, solutions developed going forward must nevertheless also account for lingering issues having to do with conservation, storage, preservation, and duplication.

A key example of one of these issues concerns the datacenters that end up storing the relevant digital records. Recalling the comparison offered above, digital film data centres share with physical film warehouses the risk of materials damaged by exposure to the elements or simply because of degradation over time. Thankfully, new technologies are presently being developed that could potentially increase the lifespan of certain digital storage devices. One example of this is the experiment that Microsoft concluded just at the end of September 2020. A two-year test of a sealed container datacenter located on the floor of the Pacific Ocean successfully demonstrated the overall reliability of the technology in question in an environment with reduced corrosion from oxygen and humidity, fewer temperature fluctuations, and a general absence of people who could damage the equipment as a result of their daily interaction with it. (Microsoft, Para 12) The success of this kind of experiment opens the door to storing records using equipment that could theoretically last much longer than has previously been the case. This development would seem to solve at least two problems at once. The first is that it protects the physical manifestation of the records in a sealed form for future generations. The second is that it allows for the creation of copies at a comfortable pace and thereby preserves the record in the memories of the individual and society for as long as they desire to screen the relevant video. This kind of thinking, called “cultural memory,” constitutes a distinctly non-physical aspect of the archivist’s discipline whereby material is preserved in part by keeping it alive in the collective minds of a given community(Ulf Vierke, 2015, P. 21). In many ways, this way of thinking has only really become possible since digitalization became relatively inexpensive.

Previously, preservation of analog moving images and audio required a high initial investment in equipment which still did not always solve some of the problems inherent in the process. Screened copies of films, for example, tend to be of lower quality as a result of continuous use, and film transfer work, while possible, tends to take a prohibitive amount of time (Gracy, K. 2013a, P. 368). Digitization allows films to be cheaply and easily stored and screened, but the technology involved is still in its relative infancy at the moment, and the problems associated with its prolonged use are still being debated. 

That being said, it is necessary to remember that the film industry encountered the same kinds of problems relatively early in its history since there was virtually no consideration given to film preservation or the value of this new type of physical record until the 1930s at the earliest, several decades after the advent of moving pictures. In this way, we could consider this present stage as the beginning of a new era in the history of film archives and of the film industry itself (Gracy, K. 2013b, P. 371). The film industry is always going to think in terms of business, of course, and considerations of profit and loss will ultimately determine how and when new technologies are adopted. That said, some amount of thought should still be given to the fewer material benefits of film preservation. In addition to being products that are intended for exhibition and sale, after all, films and photography are also forms of art and historical documents that are deeply intertwined with the concepts of evidence and memory. 

A Closer Look at Film as Evidence

Since the inception of the film industry, it has become natural for people to connect with the idea that moving images and photographs can in some manner preserve time. The first cinematographers sought to record events worldwide and offered a glimpse of the world for an audience eager to devour each new image that emerged. The first decades of this industry’s life accordingly inspired artists and intellectuals to debate the implications of these developments from a diverse array of aesthetic, scientific, and philosophical perspectives. Underlying many of these debates was the impact of these new recording devices upon the conception of memory (Amad, P, 2010, P96). For some researchers, the film reel resembled a sort of a time capsule or time machine which would capture a place or an object in a way that could potentially be stored for future reference, marking the indexical, irrefutable, and reproducible trace of past events as they unfolded in duration (Amad, P. 2010, P. 135). But as the medium of cinema took time to be understood, this conception of its impact on memory and culture also took time to be digested and adopted. 

Perhaps the best-known researcher, and the one whom most film historians and theorists call back to when attempting to explain what they think cinema actually is, would be Andre Bazin. His essay Ontology of the Photographic Image (1958) has offered generations of scholars an extremely useful analogy between the “mummy complex” and the essence of film. In primary terms, Bazin put forth the idea that photography, and cinema itself, offers us the opportunity to preserve, artificially, anything that is captured through the lenses of the camera; to snatch it from the flow of time, to stow it away neatly, so to speak, in the hold of life (Bazin A., 2005, Pp. 82-83). This ability that cinema possesses to preserve time accordingly gives the film a quality of credibility that no other art form can claim, and has lent film an inherent quality of truthfulness since photography enjoys certain advantages in terms of this transference of reality from the thing to its reproduction (Bazin A., 2005, Pp. 94). Bazin followed this initial claim by further arguing that the value of the camera was that it could be considered objective, since for the first time, between the originating object and its reproduction, there intervened only the instrumentality of a non-living agent. For the first time, the world’s image was formed automatically, without man’s creative intervention. The arts, up to that point, were based on the presence of man. Only photography derived an advantage from his absence. (Bazin A., 2005, Pp. 92-93) This theory is crucial to archival studies since archives are interested in preserving evidence with as much fidelity to the original as possible.

It is, of course, necessary to delimit the concept of evidence for this argument to succeed. For this document’s benefit, we ultimately gravitated toward English philosopher and political reformer Jeremy Bentham and American Lawyer and legal scholar John Henry Wigmore’s theories, which suggest that evidence is constituted by the very processes that use evidence to prove a fact or acquire knowledge about a past event. (Meehan J., 2006, P. 137) This short explanation seems to align with our analogy of the mummification of the past and the essence of evidence. It also seems to apply in legal terms, as when the recording of an event constitutes proof that the event took place, with the image or record itself a signifier of the relationship between record and event. (Meehan J., 2006, P. 139) This notion of evidence as proven fact is a concept that in large part governs the placement of records in archives; specifically, the idea that records prove an event in the past. The past was recorded and is stored so it can become evidence for the future. The archive offers a complete look at the past and, in this way, accepts the truth.

This concept of evidence necessarily relies upon the idea that the archive is a repository of objective truth and that the material stored in the repository is there to preserve the evidence of truth. Archivists employ notions of evidence to refer to the function and value of records, to shape how they treat records, define the role of the archive in society, and provide a particular substance to archival ideas concerning the nature and purpose of the archival endeavour. (Meehan J., 2006, P. 128) This kind of thinking should inherently connect to the notion of memory, yet it seems that it is normal to divide these two concepts and even consider them to be in opposition. This thinking has contributed to the current division between evidence and memory and kept archivists from fully considering the possible affinities between the different facets of the archival idea. (Meehan J., 2006, P. 131) By digitizing objects, it becomes possible to continue connecting memory to evidence while also preserving the original physical material. Perhaps more importantly, it gives us the chance to see two archival systems, cultural memory and physical archiving, living and working together. In a way, it’s possible to mummify the records and at the same time give them a new life. The opportunities are endless.


The idea of film as evidence can thus be traced back to the advent of cinema, and as a result of the works of theorist Andre Bazin, it has been cemented in the popular imagination that cinema is the evidence of time as preserved through images. Despite this close connection between film as a medium and evidence as a concept, however, preservation has always been and continues to be a significant problem for those creating and studying film in its various forms. Until the advent of digitization, archival studies and cinema studies did not question the basic concepts that govern the creation and storage of records. But while some may perceive the ensuing conversations as a kind of crisis, this is emphatically not the case. The advancement of technologies in digital storage, like the advancement of technologies used in cinema, should not be considered extraordinary but rather a natural step in preserving the cinematic record. The constant evolution of technology in cinema has allowed it to survive and become the predominant form for the representation of reality. Digitization offers archivists the same kind of opportunity, allowing for the screening of films without using or affecting the physical records. The technology currently available for storage is limited, but it will improve and become the preferred method for research in time.

About The Author

Oscar Aguilera Garcia is a student of Master of Information at the University of Toronto, where he learned the importance of archival methodology in film preservation and new preservation methods. He is working on a documentary project which is in line with his future goal of working on film documentaries. Oscar is currently finishing his Master’s degree.

Work Cited

Amad, P. (2010). “Counter-Archive: Film, the every day, and Albert Kahn’s Archives de la Planéte.” Columbia University Press.

Ayer, D. (2016) Suicide Squad. Warner Brothers: USA

Bazin, A. (2005). What Is Cinema? Translated by Hugh Gray. Forewords By Jean Renoir. Univ. of California Press: California. 

Chassanoff, A. (2013). “Historians and the Use of Primary sources Materials in the Digital Age.” The American Archivist (2013) 76 (2): 458-480

Conrad, S. (2012), “Analog, The Sequel: an Analysis of Current Film Archiving Practice and Hesitance to Embrace Digital Preservation.” Archival Issues 34(1), pp. 27-43.

Forbes, D (2009), “Film Archives: A Decaying History.” African Research & Documentation 110, pp. 37-43

Gracy, K. (2013, a). “Ambition and Ambivalence: a Study of Professional Attitudes Toward Digital Distribution of Archival Moving Image.” The American Archivist (2013) 76 (2): 346-373. DOI: 10.17723/aarc.76.2.t401kx8j64682224

————–(2013, b), “Moving Image Preservation Work: The Evolution and Integration of Moving Image Preservation Work into Cultural Heritage Institutions.” Information & Culture: A Journal of History 48(3), pp. 368-389

Meehan, J. (2006). “Towards an Archival Concept of Evidence.” Archivaria 61 (Spring): pp. 127-146.

National Film Preservation Foundation (n.d.) “Preservation.” National Film Preservation Foundation: [accessed September 27, 2021]

Roach, John (2020, September, 14) “Microsoft finds underwater datacenters are reliable, practical and use energy sustainably.” Microsoft Innovation Stories: [Accessed December 1, 2020]

Vierke, U. (2015), “Archive, Art, and Anarchy: Challenging the Praxis of Collecting and Archiving: From the Topological Archive to the Anarchic Archive.” African Arts 48(2) (Summer), pp. 12-25.



by Barbara Bellamy


Back to Sagesse 2022


From the Editor

Welcome to the seventh edition of Sagesse: Journal of Canadian Records and Information Management, an ARMA Canada publication. We have several great articles written by some familiar authors and first time Sagesse authors for you to enjoy. As always, we welcome your feedback.

Sagesse Editorial Team

I would like to thank the Editorial Review Committee for their time, insights, and dedication to the Information Profession and Sagesse. Without them, there would be no Sagesse. 

Christine Ardern

Alexandra (Sandie) Bradley

Pat Burns

Sandra Dunkin

Heather McAra-Tinkler

Stuart Rennie

Uta Fox

I am also excited about the addition of Ann Snyder to the Editorial board. Ann’s experience includes data remediation; data mining/analytics; e-discovery; IG process building/improvements; IG technologies; IG program maturity assessment/gap analysis; long-term digital preservation; IG program training; IG frameworks, programs, committees; policy development and implementation; IG and data transfer during restructuring events; and industry best practices.

I would also like to extend my appreciation to Christy Walters and Jay Jorgensen from the ARMA Canada Board for their support and efforts securing French translation and maintaining our publication on the ARMA Canada site. And finally, thank you to Simon Ouaziz, a colleague of mine for reviewing the French translation for content prior to publication.

University Essay Contest

ARMA Canada held its fourth essay contest for graduate students enrolled in graduate information management programs at Canadian universities in 2021.  We are pleased to announce that Oscar Alonso Aguilera Garcia from the University of Toronto was the $1,000 recipient with the article “The Strange Case of Dr. Digitization and Mr. Film”. This article discusses the need for Archivists and Information Professionals to consider new methods for film preservation. This paper proposes that film archiving can go far beyond the traditional concept of preserving history by seeking a more enduring system of conservation that will allow films to be maintained in various physical and digital formats while maintaining its integrity.

Congratulations Oscar! 

2022 Sagesse Articles

Bruce Miller discusses the “Impact of Tangible Capital Asset (TCA) Accounting on Electronic Recordkeeping Practices for municipalities that have implemented TCA. He writes about the need to update the procedures to create, label and file physical documents. Digital procedures will also need to be updated including the changes necessary to the retention rules

Mark Grysiuk provides an entertaining look at incident response management in “Say Goodbye to May Long Weekend”. It is a fictional case study about a Canadian organization attacked by hackers right before May long weekend. The Records Manager plays a critical role in guiding management decisions and providing insights into incident response planning.

Good communications are vital to organizations proactively meeting their privacy obligations. In Anne-Marie Hayden’s article “Enhance Communications to Improve Privacy Practices” she discusses techniques that can help manage privacy challenges when they arise. And contains techniques to better comply with consent and openness requirements and improve online privacy policies and notices. 

In this next article written by The First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC), “Respecting First Nations Data Sovereignty in Records & Information Management”, Melissa Dane provides an overview of the FNIGC. She defines the concepts of First Nations Data Sovereignty and First Nations data before briefly outlining the First Nations Principles of OCAP®. The paper ends with a discussion of various ways Records and Information Management professionals are implicated in First Nations Data Sovereignty and how they may respect the principles of OCAP® in their work.  

Dans cet article suivant rédigé par The First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC), « Respecter la souveraineté des données des Premières Nations dans la gestion des documents et de l’information », Melissa Dane donne un aperçu du FNIGC. Elle définit les concepts de la souveraineté des données des Premières Nations et des données des Premières Nations avant de décrire brièvement les principes des Premières Nations du OCAP®. Le document se termine par une discussion sur diverses façons dont les professionnels de la gestion des documents et de l’information sont impliqués dans la souveraineté des données des Premières Nations et sur la façon dont ils peuvent respecter les principes du OCAP® dans leur travail.

The thesis of this next article by Jennifer Bodnarchuk, “Information governance vs. data governance: what’s the difference and why does it matter?” is that the distinct differences between data and information do not need to be understood in order to govern data and information. Data and information governance are essential to provide the guiderails of process and structure to protect, preserve, organize, and give appropriate access to the data and information that lead to knowledge and wisdom for organizations.

Records and Information Management is Vital to System Development and Implementation” by Tod Chernikoff discusses the gap between those who buy or develop information management systems and compliance with records and information management requirements. Records and information management staff must be involved in the Software Development Lifecycle process from the beginning to ensure those systems properly manage records and information across its lifecycle.

« La gestion des dossiers et de l’information est essentielle à l’élaboration et à la mise en œuvre du système » de Tod Chernikoff discute de l’écart entre ceux qui achètent ou développent des systèmes de gestion de l’information et la conformité aux exigences en matière de gestion des dossiers et de l’information. Le personnel de gestion des dossiers et de l’information doit participer au processus du cycle de vie du développement logiciel dès le début pour s’assurer que ces systèmes gèrent correctement les dossiers et les informations tout au long de leur cycle de vie.

Strategic planning is a critical part of any successful program. This paper by Christine Ardern looks at the elements which go into strategic planning. “Do you know where you are going? A look at Strategic Planning” also provides the steps involved and some valuable resources that can be used as reference tools to begin your strategic planning. 

La planification stratégique est un élément essentiel de la réussite de tout programme. Cet article de Christine Ardern examine les éléments qui entrent dans la planification stratégique. «Savez-vous où vous allez? Un regard sur la planification stratégique» fournit également les étapes impliquées et des ressources précieuses qui peuvent être utilisées comme outils de référence pour commencer votre plan stratégique.

Please note the disclaimer at the end of this Introduction stating the opinions expressed by the authors in this publication are not the opinions of ARMA Canada or the editorial committee.  We are interested in hearing whether you agree or not with this content or have other thoughts or recommendations about the publication. Please forward to:

If you are interested in providing an article for Sagesse or wish to obtain more information on writing for Sagesse, visit the ARMA Canada’s website – – see Sagesse


ARMA Canada’s Sagesse’s Editorial Review Committee

Christine Ardern, CRM, FAI, IGP; Barbara Bellamy, CRM, ARMA Canada Director of Canadian Content; Alexandra (Sandie) Bradley, CRM, FAI; Pat Burns, CRM; Sandra Dunkin, MLIS, CRM, IGP; Heather McAra-Tinkler; Stuart Rennie, JD, MLIS, BA (Hons.), FAI; Ann Snyder, and Uta Fox, CRM, FAI.


The contents of material published on the ARMA Canada website are for general information purposes only and are not intended to provide legal advice or opinion of any kind.  The contents of this publication should not be relied upon. The contents of this publication should not be seen as a substitute for obtaining competent legal counsel or advice or other professional advice.  If legal advice or counsel or other professional advice is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. 

While ARMA Canada has made reasonable efforts to ensure that the contents of this publication are accurate, ARMA Canada does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, currency or completeness of the contents of this publication.  Opinions of authors of material published on the ARMA Canada website are not an endorsement by ARMA Canada or ARMA International and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policy of ARMA Canada or ARMA International.

ARMA Canada expressly disclaims all representations, warranties, conditions and endorsements. In no event shall ARMA Canada, its directors, agents, consultants or employees be liable for any loss, damages or costs whatsoever, including (without limiting the generality of the foregoing) any direct, indirect, punitive, special, exemplary or consequential damages arising from, or in connection to, any use of any of the contents of this publication.

Material published on the ARMA Canada website may contain links to other websites. These links to other websites are not under the control of ARMA Canada and are merely provided solely for the convenience of users. ARMA Canada assumes no responsibility or guarantee for the accuracy or legality of material published on these other websites. ARMA Canada does not endorse these other websites or the material published there.