An ECM Perspective on ERM: Your Penchant for Over-Retaining is Costing You

By Susan Goodman CIP, IGP, CRM, CIPP posted 06-12-2011 09:51


Guest Blog posting from my esteemed colleague Ed White, VP and Senior Architect at Bank of America

There is a lot of truth to the saying that “you don’t own your possessions, your possessions own you.”  I’m not sure I ever fully understood this until the first time I did a really thorough spring cleaning of my basement.    There was something very liberating about being able to see the basement floor once again and in thinking about someone else giving a second life to some of our once-coveted possessions.

Whether you realize it or not, it’s likely that your IT organization is owned by its possession of terabytes worth of unneeded data that are years, and in some cases, decades past their required retention date.  Ok, so you can’t exactly give your old data away to someone who can make better use of it, but you might just want to think about purging some of it.  At first blush, being a data pack rat may feel like the cheapest, most conservative path to take.  In this discussion, I’d like to explore why that just isn’t the case.

This past March at the AIIM Info360 Conference I had the pleasure of attending Manu Chadha’s eye opening presentation entitled, “Stop Retaining Forever.”  Chadha, Director of Strategic Solutions at HP, talked about the skyrocketing cost of practicing “infinite retention” of data.

Before we talk about the cost of being so retentive though, let’s understand why we are driven to over-retain.

We’ll deal with it later

How many development efforts have you been involved with where records management made the top ten priorities list?   Be honest now.  At some point in the course of most projects that one rogue information architect mentions something about developing a purging strategy.  Everyone agrees it makes sense, but there just isn’t time or budget to deal with it amidst the frenzy to get a quality product out the door on-time.  We’ll deal with it later. 

Kryder’s Law

At Info360 Chadha spoke of Kryder’s Law, which, similar to Moore’s Law, suggested a doubling of magnetic storage density each year.  And while the Law held true through 2005, the pace actually accelerated beyond a doubling after that point.  We’ve all heard the mantra, “storage is cheap”.  In my days as a database administrator, I’m certain I played this card with our UNIX administrators as I pleaded for more disk space.  Why deal with the hassle of devising a records management solution when it’s cheaper to just purchase more space?

It’s just safer

Purging content sounds risky.  What if we need it again someday?  It seems safer to hang on to our data forever…..just in case.

Myths debunked

While they may seem intuitive, all of these excuses for over-retaining are flawed. 

Dealing with it later is not a records management strategy and, in fact, we all know that in this case later never comes.  Procrastinating only serves to exacerbate what Chadha refers to as our “information sprawl”.

While cost per megabyte of storage may be decreasing, the true loaded cost of retaining these mountains of historical data is, in fact, rising.  Chadha pointed out that total storage runs anywhere between five to eight times the cost of the actual storage hardware (Osterman Research, May 2010).  He added that information sprawl begets application sprawl.  How can you open old data files without retaining the old software?  Application sprawl begets infrastructure sprawl.  Old applications can’t always run on new hardware, so you may be forced to keep around old platforms that would have otherwise been retired.  As Chadha astutely pointed out, this sprawl is eating up IT budgets, leaving no funding for innovation.

And while it may sound safer to retain data beyond its required retention period, quite often it is not.  Data that can be discovered can also be used against you in litigation. For example, data can be pulled out of context, to create an impression that isn’t accurate. By over-retaining, you are needlessly exposing your organization to potential legal risk.

Start Spring cleaning today

To deal with this problem effectively, we have to devise a spring cleaning strategy:

  • Have a clear set of policies and a governance process around records management. 
  • Develop a holistic records management solution for your enterprise and ensure that all projects are required to bake it into their project plans.
  • Implement a corporate records retention schedule and insist that all corporate records are mapped to it.
  • As Chadha says, we must “Defensively Preserve, Defensively Dispose and De-dupe” information.  Work with your legal and compliance departments to ensure your approach is sound.
  • As you defensively dispose and de-dupe, look for opportunities to eliminate unneeded applications and infrastructure, thus freeing up dollars for more innovative purposes.
  • Make sure to also determine the value of specific data within the context of the documentation retained for that content (source data, electronic reports, paper output, etc). For instance, certain data will need to be retained for the full retention period while other data may be considered shorter-term.
  • Educate technology and business partners on the legal risk of over-retaining.  It’s not obvious to most and it is, therefore, often overlooked.

IT as a cost center is so 1990.  In the year 2011 it’s time to think of IT as a profit center.  Before that can happen though, we need to be smarter about data retention.  If we don’t, we will continue to spend the bulk of our IT budgets on keeping the lights on and, frankly, that doesn’t sound very liberating.

Ed White, ECMM

VP; Senior Architect; Strategy, Architecture & Shared Application Services

Global Commercial, Corporate and Investment Banking Technology (GCCIBT)

Bank of America;

The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of Bank of America (BAC) or AIIM. Susan Goodman, CRM, MLS, ERMs, ECMp;  Ed White, ECMm.

#ERM #electronic records management #recordsretention #ElectronicContentManagement #ElectronicRecordsManagement #ECM