Defining Information ROT

By Kevin Parker posted 05-05-2016 00:15


Paper landfill (public domain)A good acronym can help communicate an important concept in a memorable way. One of my favorite acronyms in Information Management is ROT. This term conjures up images of junk that needs to be cleared out of our information systems. However, I have seen this acronym defined in two similar but different ways.

Usage of the term ROT with both of these definitions dates at least as far back as the early 2000s. Let's look at each definition, and then pick one to use going forward.

Definition 1: ROT = "Redundant, Outdated, Trivial"

This definition of ROT is often used for Web content. We information architects and content strategists tell publishers to clean up their websites' content ROT so the information remains concise, fresh, and relevant.

Definition 2: ROT = "Redundant, Obsolete, Trivial"

I see this definition often used in the context of both enterprise information management and data management. It still includes "redundant" and "trivial", but uses "obsolete" instead of "outdated". Why does that make a difference? Because "obsolete" includes "outdated" and more.

Redundant information exists when it is duplicated in multiple places, whether in the same system or across multiple systems. This often leads to issues with different versions and confusion about which is the "right" version. To solve this, define a SPOT, or "Single Point Of Truth" (another great acronym), for each type of information.

Trivial means "of very little importance or value". Trivial information is all the stuff we create in our daily activities that does not meet the standards of a record (evidence of business activity or historical value), of corporate knowledge (information about how things work), of business insight (analytical data and reports), or of any other value category. This is the stuff that does not matter and should just be deleted when no longer needed.

Outdated means "no longer in use or fashionable". This term is fine when applied to content on websites or intranets. If your top news article refers to something that happened three years ago, that is outdated. Get rid of it.

Obsolete can mean "no longer in general use" or "discarded" or "replaced" or "outdated". Information can become obsolete for several reasons. It can be outdated (as defined above). Or it can be replaced (superseded) by other information. Or it can be incorrect or incomplete. Obsolete is a bigger category than outdated. Whatever the reason, obsolete information can lead to confusion as well as actions or outcomes based on bad information.

Why ROT is a Problem

Information that is redundant, obsolete, or trivial causes a number of issues in our organizations. Don't believe that it is okay to keep everything forever because "storage is cheap" and search technology is improving. This is risky business for a number of reasons:

  • Storing more information costs more than storing less, no matter how cheap the storage is.
  • Browsing more information takes more time than browsing cleaner repositories.
  • Search, analytics, and eDiscovery tools work longer and produce less reliable results when applied to larger, ROT-filled information volumes.
  • Using the wrong version of information or obsolete information leads to mistakes and bad decisions. This can cost money or even cost lives.

In short, ROT leads to higher inefficiency and higher risk. Reducing ROT increases efficiency and lowers risk.

Conclusion: ROT = Redundant, Obsolete, Trivial

Defining ROT as "Redundant, Obsolete, Trivial" is better for describing enterprise information that should be cleaned out of our information systems. It includes a broader category for information that can become obsolete for various reasons. So let's all use this definition consistently when we speak and write about cleaning up information ROT (Redundant, Obsolete, Trivial).


J. Kevin Parker, CIP, ECMm, ERMm, BPMm, SharePointm, Capturep | |

#EnterpriseContentManagement #ElectronicRecordsManagement #Web Content Management #Content Analytics #Search