Dealing With Data
March/April 2005

We are awash in electronic information. It is smeared across our technology systems. Managing this morass is one of the most serious problems facing business today. Companies, large and small, often don’t appreciate the ramifications until it is too late, and they are at risk of serious legal liability. At that point, trying to fix the problem can be very expensive. It is often unsuccessful.

During the ancient days before computers and networks became the predominant business paradigm, most information was kept in the form of laboriously typed paper documents that were neatly filed and, at the end of their life cycle, either thrown in the trash or filed away in document storage facilities. We have, ourselves, searched for old documents in places such as an abandoned Colorado mineshaft (hazardous waste suits required); a forgotten storage building in the Puerto Rican jungle (mosquito netting required); and the garages of long-retired engineers (great patience required).

Because paper document preparation and storage were both burdensome and expensive, there was a natural limitation on the volume of documents produced and subsequently preserved. But computers and electronic data storage have changed all that. Electronic document generation and storage is simple and cheap. The digital equivalent of a warehouse full of paper can now be stored on a server no bigger than the average computer. Encyclopedias can exist on a thin piece of plastic. As a result, rather than cull old files before storage, it is much easier just to save everything. 

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