Companies are drowning in a deluge of documents to the point that employees can only read a fraction of the documents that pass through their computers and cannot find the information they need, and companies have no idea of what they own or what they should do with it. That is the message that Joe Martins, Managing Director of Data Mobility Group, brought to the January 11, 2011 Peer Incite Meeting.
Too often, he said, companies try to deal with these documents by backing up everything, archiving the tapes and hoping they can find what they need when they need it or by saving everything in multiple locations. This is an expensive solution when dealing with multiple terabytes of documents, only a fraction of which really need long-term preservation. And it is courting disaster, as some enterprises have discovered when they were unable to locate critical documents required in court proceedings.
And too often all companies are concerned about when archiving these documents is meeting compliance and potential civil tort needs. But beyond these immediate concerns, these documents often contain valuable information that used properly can drive revenue and operational improvement. But that cannot happen if the information cannot be found when it is needed, and a simple “save everything” strategy does nothing to solve the problem of finding the right document at the right moment.
What companies need, Martins argued, is an intelligent archiving system that uses metadata to identify each document according to its value, handles each type of document – report, slide deck, photo album – in an optimal way to make it available to those who need it across the enterprise, preserves them for the length of their effective life and destroys them when the cost or legal liability of keeping them outweighs their value. The problem, Martins says, is that this is not easily done and can only be partly automated, and then only after careful planning.
“When I go into a company,” he says, “I find IT around the table and sometimes some executives.” But companies have groups of specialists who use specific types of documents and are the only people who really understand which of those need to be archived for preservation and how they need to be treated and organized for optimal retrieval. Those people typically are not represented at the planning table, and without them IT can only make guesses. The result too often is that when a solution is installed and goes live these groups turn up to complain that it doesn't do what they need.
Even with careful planning and an optimized system design, however, even the best system can only partially automate the creation of that metadata. People – the creators and users of the documents – have to supply some of that, and people as a rule resist that extra task added to their jobs.
“I have seen cases where people have entered random keystrokes into the fields for the metadata for their documents,” he says. “Then later they cannot find the document they need. When we find the document for them, we see the random keystroke entries. When we ask why they did that, they say, 'It was faster.'”
Action Item: Building an effective document archive requires careful planning that involves the specialized groups within the organization that create and are the primary users of different document types. It also, however, requires that the document creators and users be motivated to provide the metadata needed for effective archiving. They need to be educated to the importance of that metadata and motivated by the right combination of carrots (e.g., the ability to find the document they need easily and quickly) and sticks (e.g., the threat that lost documents can result in major losses to the enterprise in court cases, and that could rebound on them and damage their careers).