Archiving to HTML has surprising benefits in court

The Catholic Children’s Aid Society (CCAS) has found that archiving documents in HTML format instead of legacy Lotus Notes formats is helpful in court cases.

The CCAS uses WebArchive, a Notes server utility from United Systems Solutions (USS) that, among other features, archives legacy Notes documents in HTML format.

Kenneth Chan, information service director for CCAS in Toronto, said his organization archives closed cases from the database after one month. Old case records are sometimes needed in court for various reasons, but Chan said printouts of documents in old Notes formats end up looking messy and strange to the court.

“The court is still a bit old fashioned, and already in the back of their mind they (court officials) suspect electronic stuff. We have to prove to them how secure it is and that no one can fudge it. But they get concerned when all of a sudden (documents) don’t look the same any more,” Chan said.

“So by going to WebArchive, we eliminated this problem,” by storing the documents in easily printable HTML, Chan explained. He said it was an unexpected side benefit to WebArchive.

Bob Calvert, president of USS, said other benefits of archiving to HTML instead of a proprietary format include being able to put a search engine over the stored documents and keeping the documents in an open format for very long-term storage. He said government agencies frequently must store documents for at least 100 years.

Chan said CCAS, by law, cannot purge, delete or destroy case documents for the life of the people involved in the case. Adding to the headache of having to store case files for that length of time is the fact that the files include large image files of paper documents such as child abuse forms.

“One worker can easily have 20 or 30 cases and you can imagine, how could a worker manage that on paper? What happens if a worker is away on two weeks’ vacation and there’s an emergency call based on one of the families they serve? If the worker has the files sitting at home, no one has access to them,” Chan said.

USS’s Calvert said there are other paper-related management problems common to most office environments.

“When you’re dealing with paper, you have to move it around, use couriers to send it places. You need filing cabinets to store it; for long-term storage you need to take that paper from the filing cabinet to off-site storage. The cost of the management of a piece of paper turns out to be anywhere from 25 cents to a dollar,” Calvert said.

Geoff Simonett, vice-president of USS, said paper is also easily damaged by fires, floods and other disasters, while a data system can be backed up and mirrored off site.

“Also, any time you want to find that piece of paper, it’s faster to search on electronic images on a database than you could ever do by going to a filing cabinet and looking,” Simonett said.

So keeping all documents on the Notes database allows for better management, access and collaboration, Chan said. Problems stem from the fact that as the database becomes larger and larger, it also becomes slower to work with. Before WebArchive, CCAS was archiving old documents on microfiche.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to store things electronically and then print it out on hard copy and do a microfiche on it. That was a stupid system,” said Chan, adding the CCAS hoped technology such as WebArchive would come along before the Notes database reached the breaking point.

WebArchive also archives Notes mail, moving the body of old messages to a Web server and leaving only the message header and a link to the stored message.

“When we put the URL in, we put in a 32-byte random number in the message, so it’s larger than most 128-bit keys, actually. The only way someone can get into the archived message is to get into the mail in Notes, which has all of its security on it, click on the URL and that will pull up the archived message,” Calvert said.

WebArchive is priced at US$9,500 for the first server and US$5,000 for each additional server.

USS in Toronto is at (416) 367-1070 or on-line at