Andrew’s Favorite Retention Series: Software Programs

In this blog series, TSLAC analysts highlight and extol the virtues of their favorite record series.

Across 12 local retention schedules and 152 certified and unique state agency retention schedules, there are a lot of series to choose from for your favorite. My favorite holds an incredibly special place in my heart, for this series encapsulates the essence of good records management and the goal of accessibility. That series is Software Programs.

In the first ever Local Schedule GR published in 1992, software accessibility goals are outlined in the preamble, but no discrete series appears. Software Programs don’t appear as a stand-alone series until the third edition of Local Schedule GR was released in 1995. This brings up a pretty interesting issue when it comes to what is or isn’t a record. We don’t have a records series for paper, email, social media posts or text messages – those are understood to be formats and the record series held therein would need to be divined via the content. So, how did a series like Software Programs make the cut?

Let’s look at the series, both on the Local Government and State Agency Schedule.

On the local side:

GR5800-06 SOFTWARE PROGRAMS Automated software applications and operating system files including job control language, , etc. Until electronic records are transferred to and made usable in a new software environment, or there are no electronic records being retained to meet an approved retention period that require the software to be retrieved and read. Retention Note:  If the retention period of electronic records is extended to meet requirements of an audit, litigation, Public Information Act request, etc. any software program required to retrieve and read the records must also be retained for the same period.

On the state side:

2.1.007 Software Programs Automated software applications and operating system files including job control language, program listing/source code, etc. AC   X AC = Until electronic records are transferred to and made usable in a new software environment or there are no electronic records being retained to meet an approved retention period that require the software to be retrieved and read. CAUTION:  Software needed for access to electronic records must be retained for the period of time required to access the records. 13 TAC 6.94.  

The description in this series isn’t very interesting. What elevates it from the rest is the retention period. It is my firm belief that this retention period is as succinct and as artful as any description of access goals I’ve come across. It’s not enough to just have the records in your possession for the full retention period. You need to ensure that you can retrieve the content.

To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at word processing software. In 1992, when our first local schedule was published – WordPerfect was the standard for word processing. Released in 1979, the white text on blue background of WordPerfect had dominated the market through the early 90s. If you were saving your Meeting Minutes electronically, or putting together a publication during this period, it’s likely that you were using WordPerfect.

We all know what happened in the mid-90s and have the dancing video to prove it.

via Gfycat

Windows 95 and the first Microsoft Office Suite were unveiled. Included in Microsoft Office 95 was a program called Microsoft Word that quickly came to dominate the word processing market. By 1996, if you were saving your Meeting Minutes electronically, or putting together a publication – there is a very good chance that your office had switched to the new paradigm in office computing.

As this one software class story illustrates: technology changes. In a dynamic world, it is naïve to expect that the dominant software we use today will still be dominant 10, 20, or even 100 years from now. The record series that TSLAC has prescribed permanent retention to are those that best document state agencies and local governments fulfilling the obligations that the citizens of Texas have charged them with. If governmental entities in Texas choose to store that evidence of activity electronically, those entities must make certain that the records will be accessible – forever. Not bad, huh?

But don’t fret too much. TSLAC has put together several resources to shepherd you through the process of preserving electronic records. Interested in strategies for future proofing your electronic records? See video below:

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