How AMO secures Africa’s stories through digitisation

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From historic maps to hand folded letters to delicate artworks, history is often frayed by time. But with digitisation, however, the future of history and its stories are secured for generations to come.

Africa Media Online (AMO) began as one of the first online picture libraries in Africa, and gradually grew from these roots into a company focused on building a digital trade route helping institutions and organisations get their collections from their cupboard to the audience they want to reach.

With a vision to enable Africans to tell Africa’s story, the company is dedicated to digitising heritage collections using cutting-edge equipment and software to provide what may be the continent’s first non-destructive preservation-quality digitisation service.

When starting out, in 2000, AMO found that the heritage space is naturally change resistant.

To successfully share and preserve Africa’s stories, AMO would need to find a way to welcome the heritage sector into a world of innovation bringing reassurance around matters such as copyright, custodianship, long-term preservation and data security to satisfy its exacting clients.

The Challenge

“Unfortunately, there are many physical collections in South Africa that are not looked after properly let alone digitally preserved,” explains Bandile Sizani from AMO.

Digitising valuable and irreplaceable collections demands best practices relating to conservation and care of the analogue collections being digitised and the meeting of exacting international standards for the production of digital files at preservation quality. In order for digital files to be findable, they also need to have metadata captured against them – information about the file that identify what the file is and its subject matter. This too needs to be done according to open standards that enable the file to be accessible wherever it is used over the long term.

The biggest challenge of digital archives, however, is the long-term preservation of digital collections. We all know how easily digital files are created. It is, however, even easier to lose them through deletion, corruption, virus’ and so on. For the company to preserve today’s stories and tomorrow’s history, it has needed to stay at the forefront of the systems that support digital preservation, both hardware and software.

The Solution

Having spent two decades doing the work in-house, itself, AMO reached out to Synthesis Software Technologies, a software development company that uses innovative technology solutions to provide businesses with a competitive edge.

“We believed that AWS provides the world’s leading cloud ecosystem that will give us the leverage to stay on the cutting edge of developments in this field. We did not, however, know how to migrate into AWS or how to control costs within that environment. This is where we found a wonderful partner in Synthesis,” says AMO’s Director of Business Development, David Larsen. AMO required strategic migration and management of its workloads to the AWS Cloud. This would allow for scale as the company’s repositories grew.

Synthesis began by conducting a detailed assessment of the estate using a combination of automation tooling. Based on this outcome, Synthesis proposed the best-suited architecture for AMO’s unique requirements.

Rights management is essential within the repository. “Africa Media Online’s core vision is ‘Africans telling Africa’s Story’ and fundamental to that is our commitment to ensure that ownership of our heritage stays in the hands of the custodians of that heritage. Even if the original object is out of copyright, we work hard to ensure that custodianship remains in their hands.”

AMO’s digital repository system, Preservatio, preserves digital files for the long-term in line with the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model. The system’s web interface, called Memat enables access to the digital files. Only low-resolution derivatives can be browsed and preservation or publishing quality files can only be accessed with permission from the system administrator.

With Synthesis’s managed services, all artifacts will be secured with 24/7 monitoring and bankgrade security. The metadata database will also be migrated to cloud as this is an essential part of preservation.

AMO will be ensured of cost management, security, availability management, backup (which is essential for these valuable assets) and patching through constant updates.

The Results

With room to focus on its core capabilities, AMO will have the time to educate heritage intuitions about how to step into the digital space in a sound way. Its clients will have peace of mind through stable systems that can scale as repositories and users increase. With this stability and an ever more intuitive user experience, AMO will be able to give its clients an experience that welcomes them into the digital age. 

Clients will also be guaranteed the security of their digital assets with backup through AWS Cloud’s availability zones. AMO will be ensured that the environment is optimally run and constantly aligned to industry best practice.

AMO is working towards ISO , standard for trusted digital repositories to achieving this and ensuring world 16363 accreditation . Cloud– native best practises will help the International Standards Organisation AMO on its journey class digital preservation.

With a keen eye for modernisation, support through a trusted partner and leveraging the best in technology, AMO is set to secure Africa’s stories for generations to come.

The time it takes for the system to ingest, process and return the information to the partner network has drastically declined and improved fold.

This improves the partner experience as well as the customer experience. Points, rewards and premiums are now available 50% faster on the partners’ apps and this is just the start.

The business has seen what is possible for its partners and their customers and is determined to keep raising the bar. The business is set for further expansion.