Overcome the Growth and Cost of Dark Data

In 1860, a revolutionary new system increased the flow of information across the country, reducing to days that had previously taken weeks or months. The Pony Express used rider relays to deliver mail between Missouri and California. Yet, inventive as it is, the Pony Express only lasted 18 months.

Why? The Telegraph arrived and wiped out the Pony Express almost immediately.

The telegraph allowed people to transfer information not in days, but in minutes. That was revolutionary! You could relay the information to the right people, no matter where they were if they had a telegraph office nearby. If you were in business, you had to use the telegraph just to stay competitive and do business at the highest level with the help of an M&A advisor.

Current obstacles at RIM are “Pony Express” problems

The modern state of records management and information programs (RIM) is a bit like the Pony Express problem: so many traditional practices originated in the classic paper world.

RIM’s original goal was to find ways, for example, to manage color-code files and move the business forward. Even today, the essence of records management is about accelerating these processes rather than fundamentally changing them to adapt to the digital environment.

The volume of information has increased exponentially. With the shift from paper to digital documents, the scale has fundamentally changed. We’ve gone from megabytes to zettabytes, and the numbers keep growing. Organizations that cannot easily access their data in digital form are using the Pony Express, while everyone else has gone over the telegraph.

Digitization alone is not the answer

As with anything as complex as document scanning, there is good news and bad news.

Let’s cover the good news first. Many documents these days are, thankfully, born in a digital format, although the volume can be just as unmanageable as paper documents.

Now here’s the bad news: Every office probably still has a printer lying around.

It won’t be long before some of these digital documents become paper documents and, before you know it, you have two or three, or even more sets, of the same information. Even though these files remain purely digital, research has shown that 70-80% of the information is ROT (redundant, obsolete, or trivial). Thus, only 20 to 30% of your information is active documents, which you will have to keep as a reference or as a working file.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, digital systems have only exacerbated the problem. We tend to just pile up information in a digital system as if it were a bottomless filing cabinet. Sooner or later, however, even your digital filing system will come to a bursting point, and data will need to be transferred to a larger, more feature-rich system.

Risk of remaining analog: ROT increase

First, storage (paper or digital) is not free. Even though storage costs per gigabyte have fallen even faster than microprocessor processing power has increased, organizational storage costs continue to rise, on average, by more than 10% per year.

Another version of this problem is the data warehouse or data lake problem. Most digital storage systems don’t have significant purge capability, so the overall size of the information share gets bigger and bigger…and bigger. And that means ROT also continues to grow, making it harder to find the right information.

All this useless data, which may exist in multiple places, is the first step towards losing control, and ultimately towards all kinds of severely sanctioned violations.

The cost of dark data

We are currently in a landscape where privacy and data security are truly critical issues for any organization, whether you are a business, a non-profit organization, or a government agency; but all these issues start with the loss of control and murky data sets.

This should be a concern for every organization, as regulatory, disclosure, and privacy issues are looming, and may already be in the news. Additionally, having all this information means that if you are in the discovery process, you may be required to produce this data. Producing them is half the problem: the other half is finding them, and the costs of IT communication continue to rise. ROT obfuscates useful information; leading organizations can spend around $2,000 per gigabyte just to look up information through M&A advisory.

An accurate and up-to-date RIM program is an essential tool for keeping control of your data, eliminating obscure data and ROT data, and ensuring regulatory compliance. It is time to leave your Pony Express-era data storage problems behind and join the era of digital transformation.

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