Are you still losing information in your shared drives?

by Frank 18. November 2012 06:00

Organizations both large and small, government and private have been accumulating electronic documents in shared drives since time immemorial (or at least since the early 1980’s when networked computers and file servers became part of the business world). Some organizations still have those early documents, “just in case”.

Every organization has some form of shared drives whether or not they have an effective and all-encompassing document management system in place (and very few organizations even come close to meeting this level of organization).

All have megabytes (1 million bytes or characters, 106=ten to the power of 6) of information stored in shared drives, the vast majority has gigabytes (109), many now have terabytes (1012) and the worst have petabytes (1015).

As all the IT consultants are now fixated on “Big Data” and how to solve the rapidly growing problem it won’t be long before we are into really big numbers like exabytes (1018), zettabytes (1021) and finally when civilization collapses under the weight, yottabytes. For the record, a yottabyte is 1024 or one quadrillion gigabytes or to keep it simple, one septillion bytes. And believe me the problem is real because data breeds faster than rabbits and mice.

Most of this electronic information is unstructured (e.g., Word and text files of various kinds) and most of it is unclassified (other than maybe being in named folders or sub-folders or sub-sub-folders). None of it is easily searchable in a normal lifetime and there are multiple copies and versions some of which will lead to legal and compliance nightmares.

The idea of assigning retention schedules to these documents is laughable and in general everyone knows about the problem but no one wants to solve it. Or, more precisely, no one wants to spend the time and money required to solve this problem. It is analogous to the billions of dollars being wasted each year by companies storing useless old paper records in dusty offsite storage locations; no one wants to step up and solve the problem. It is a race to see which will destroy civilization first, electronic or paper records.

When people can’t find a document they create a new one. No one knows which is the latest version and no one wants to clean up the store in case they accidentally delete something they will need in a month or a year (or two or three). Employees often spend far more (frustrating) time searching for a document to use as a template or premise than it would take to create a new one from scratch.

No one knows what is readable (WordStar anyone?) and no one knows what is relevant and no one knows what should be kept and what should be destroyed. Many of the documents have become corrupted over time but no one is aware of this.

Some organizations have folders and sub folders defined in their shared drives which may have at one time roughly related to the type of documents being stored within them. Over time, different people had different ideas about how the shared drives and folders should be organized and they have probably been changed and renamed and reorganized multiple times.  Employees however, didn’t always follow the rules so there are miss-filings, dangerous copies and orphans everywhere.

IT thinks it is an end user problem and end users think it is an IT problem.

The real problem is that most of these unstructured documents are legal records (evidence of a business transaction) and some are even vital records (essential to the ongoing operation of the entity). Some could be potentially damaging and some could be potentially beneficial but no one knows. Some could involve the organization in legal disputes, some could involve the organization in  compliance disputes and some could save the organization thousands or millions of dollars; but no one knows.

Some should have been properly destroyed years ago (thus avoiding the aforementioned legal and compliance disputes) and some should never have been destroyed (costing the organization evidence of IP ownership or a billable transaction). But, no one knows.

However, everyone does know that shared drives waste an enormous amount of people’s time and are a virtual ‘black hole’ for both important documents and productivity.

There is a solution to the shared-drives problem but it can’t happen until some bright and responsible person steps up and takes ownership of both the problem and the solution.

For example, here is my recommendation using our product RecCapture (other vendors will have similar products designed as ours is to automatically capture all new and modified electronic documents fully automatically according to a set of business rules you develop for your organization). RecCapture is an add-on to RecFind 6 and uses the RecFind 6 relational database to store all captured documents.

RecCapture allows you to:

  • Develop and apply an initial set of document rules (which to ignore, which to keep, how to store and classify them, etc.) based on what you know about your shared drives (and yes, the first set of rules will be pretty basic because you won’t know much about the vast amount of documents in your shared drives).
  • Use these rules to capture and classify all corporate documents from your shared drives and store and index them in the RecFind 6 relational SQL database (the initial ‘sweep’).
  • Once they are in the relational database you can then utilize advanced search and global change capabilities to further organize and classify them and apply formal retention schedules.You will find that it is a thousand times easier to organize your documents once they are in RecFind 6.
  • Once the documents are saved in the RecFind 6 database (we maintain them in an inviolate state as indexed Blobs) you can safely and confidently delete most of them from your shared drives.
  • Then use these same document rules (continually being updated as you gain experience and knowledge) to automatically capture all new and modified (i.e., new versions) electronic documents as they are stored in your shared folders. Your users don’t need to change the way they work because the operation of RecCapture is invisible to them, it is a server-centric (not user-centric) and a fully automatic background process.
  • Use the advanced search features, powerful security system and versioning control of RecFind 6 to give everyone appropriate access to the RecCapture store so users can find any document in seconds thus avoiding errors and frustration and maximizing productivity and job satisfaction.

RecCapture isn’t expensive, it isn’t difficult to set up and configure and it isn’t difficult to maintain. It can be installed, configured and operational in a few days. It doesn’t interfere with your users and doesn’t require them to do anything other than their normal work.

It captures, indexes and classifies documents of any type. It can also be used to automatically abstract any text based document during the capture process. It makes all documents findable online (full text and Metadata) via a sophisticated search module (BOOLEAN, Metadata, Range searching etc.) and military strength security regime.

Accredited users can access the document store over the network and over the Internet.  Stored documents can be exported in native format or industry standard XML. It is a complete and easy to implement solution to the shared drives problem.

I am sure that Knowledgeone Corporation isn’t the only vendor offering modern tools like RecFind 6 and RecCapture so there is no excuse for you continuing to lose documents in your shared drives.

Why don’t you talk to a few enterprise content software vendors and find a tool that suits you? You will be amazed at the difference in your work environment once you solve the shared drives problem.  Then ask the boss for a pay rise and a promotion; you deserve it.

Do you really need all those boxes of records in offsite storage?

by Frank 11. November 2012 06:39

Is it jobs or useless paper records?

It is my belief that all over the western world companies and government agencies are wasting enormous amounts of money maintaining boxes of paper on the dusty but lucrative shelves of offsite storage companies like Grace Records Management, Iron Mountain and Crown Records Management. In total, it must be hundreds of millions (I know of one Australian company that spends a million dollars a year on offsite storage at multiple offsite repositories and doesn’t even know what its holdings are) or even billions of dollars a year; most of it wasted.

It is almost enough for me to dive into debt to build an offsite storage facility and then buy a few vans and shredders. I say almost because I am not a hypocrite and I wouldn’t be able to sell a service to my customers I didn’t believe in. For the life of me, I cannot understand why senior management delegates this level of expenditure to junior or mid-level managers when it really should be scrutinized at board level like every other significant cost.

Even the advent of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) beginning in 2008 doesn’t seem to have woken up senior management or board members to this area of massive waste. Instead, big corporations and government are ‘saving money’ laying off staff and outsourcing jobs to third world and developing countries. Where is the sense in that when there are easier and less disruptive and more ‘humane’ savings to be made by simply reducing the money being paid to store useless paper records that will never be referenced again? How would you feel if management laid you off because they thought it was more important to keep paying for boxes of old paper they will never use again?

Is it really only me that sees the unfairness and absurdity in this archaic paradigm? Why is the huge cost of the offsite storage of useless paper often overlooked when management is fighting to find cost savings? Why are people’s livelihoods sacrificed in deference to the need to maintain old, never-to-be-referenced-again, useless paper? Is it just because senior management is too busy with more important stuff like negotiating their next executive pay increase?

If you talk to the records manager you will be told that all that paper has to be maintained whatever the cost because of the Retention Schedule. In most cases, the Retention Schedule will be mentioned in the same way one talks about the Bible. That is, it is holy and sacrosanct and anyone who dares question it will be charged with heresy and subjected to torture and extreme deprivation in a rat infested, mouldy, dark and damp cell in the basement.

But, dig deeper and you will discover that the Retention Schedule is way too complex for the organization. You will also discover that no one really understands or can explain all the variations and that the application of it is at best, haphazard and irregular. This is when you will also discover that no one in records can actually justify why a huge percentage of those old, dusty and now irrelevant paper records are still costing you real hard cash each and every month. More importantly, they may have also cost you some of your most trusted and most valuable employees.

Isn’t it time someone senior actually looked at the money you are spending to manage mostly paper rubbish in very expensive containers?

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