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Keep Or Save? September 9, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Technology.
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Why won’t people make up their minds?  For fifty years, we in the computing business have been building bigger and bigger systems designed to store everything everyone ever wanted.  When we’ve finally gotten to the point where we pretty much could store everything for everyone, they want to start getting rid of stuff!  What do they want?

Abraham Lincoln once said (and I’m paraphrasing a bit):

You may save all the documents some of the time; you can even save some of the documents all the time; but you can’t save all of the documents all the time.

Or something like that.  Abe, bless his heart, never imagined multiple petabytes of cloud-based storage.  If he had, he’d know that we could store everything all the time, but we really don’t want to.

Now that most of us have stored way too much stuff, document retention is a real problem.  Most of the data we keep is useless, and some of what we keep can present legal or security problems.  We need to keep only the data that is important for running our businesses.

Many companies are trying to solve the problem of document retention by foisting the problem off onto IT. Let me be completely clear on this: document retention is not an IT problem.  Document retention is a business problem that IT can help with.

Often, people on the business side of this problem create policies that address “email retention” or “file retention.”  This is not much different from creating a policy on “paper retention.”  Email is not a document, nor is a file.  Email, files, and paper are simply mechanisms to store a document.

For example, an email message, a file, or a sheet of paper can all hold a representation of a contract.  Regardless of the media, they should be retained for however long your document retention policy says that a contract should be kept.  It may be easier to find and destroy electronic versions of a document, but the retention rules are unchanged.

For similar reasons, email is not considered destroyed when you remove it from your Inbox and save it on your hard drive.  It is not destroyed when you move that file to a DVD, and it still isn’t destroyed when you print the file and destroy the DVD.  It’s destroyed when you finally shred the paper and the intellectual content of the document is no longer available in any form.

Effective document retention is important, and IT plays a big role in helping the business find and manage their documents, no matter how they may be stored.  But the best way we can help is to make sure that the policies are set by the business, not by IT.  Once the policies are in place, we can help find ways to make implementation easier and more effective.  And that’s something we should be doing for all of the people, all of the time.

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1. Walter - September 11, 2009

I think businesses are trying to give the problem to IT because it has the technology for its appropriate handling. Still you’re right, its a business problem and unless they formulate policies to address this concern our IT will soon be congested with garbage. 🙂

2. Links for Sept 13 2009 | Eric D. Brown - Technology, Strategy, People, Projects - September 13, 2009

[…] Keep Or Save? from The Effective CIO by Chuck Musciano […]

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