Once upon a time we had no document-management problems. OK, so it was a very long time ago. Back then there were two historical eras: BC (before computers) and AD (after data).
Forget about BC; we’re drowning in a sea of data in the AD era, and it’s growing by the second.
Human knowledge doubled from 1 AD to 1500 AD, and again from 1500 AD to 1750 AD, and again from 1750 AD to 1850 AD, and again from 1850 AD to 1900 AD, and again from 1900 AD to 1930 AD, and again from 1930 AD to 1950 AD, and again from 1950 AD to 1966 AD, and the same from 1966 AD to 1981 AD, and 1981 AD to 1995 AD, and 1995 AD to 2006 AD, and since 2006, has more than doubled again!
The pace at which we are creating new information and the forms we use to store it are mind-boggling.
And as we know, we have a lot of information stored, including photographs, engineering drawings, maps, plans, nonstandard sizes (larger or smaller), motion picture film, video, audio, emails, voicemails, and other electronically recorded information. Let’s also not forget older “archival” material that may include microfilm, microfiche, or other scanned material.
The places we store and share information are growing exponentially as well: blogs, Websites, social media, mobile devices, SD Cards, USB drives, etc. And while not common, we may be expected to retrieve information that was stored on floppy disks (various sizes and formats), or even mag tape.
The documents we need to manage may have been created in earlier versions of MAC and PC software like Apple-write, Word Perfect 2.0, or AMI-Pro or the like. Many of these early spreadsheet and word-processing programs don’t have any import filters in current-day software, a conversion/migration problem in and of itself.
Most people today struggle with how to manage all of the rapidly expanding body of data we have collected, data that manifests itself as recorded information, appearing in all forms and on all type of storage media.
No, it’s not a new problem. In 1086, William the Conqueror completed a comprehensive survey of England and Wales. The Domesday Book, as it came to be called, contained details of 13,418 places and 112 boroughs—and is still available for public inspection at the National Archives in London. The original version of a new survey was commissioned for the 900th anniversary of The Domesday Book. It was recorded on special 12-inch laser discs. That digital format is now obsolete.
More than ever we need to establish and enforce policies that will enable us to organize, record, and preserve the data that we believe we need, as well as that which is legally required to retain.
While the digital era has brought with it the promise of indefinite memory, increased computing power, and cheaper disk space, our temptation is to make anything born digital possible to store forever. But those who have been around for a while have the perspective of the surprisingly short life and vulnerability of many forms of media.
Recognize that the ongoing changes in software and file formats will continue to create hurdles, as many of the digital objects that were created in the past can only be opened/manipulated by the software that created them. You can’t change what’s happened in the past, but you can learn from it and use this to establish a data policy that’ll help you in the future.
The good news is you don’t have to be a victim of data overload. A friend of mine once told me, “Keep what you need to keep for only as long as you need to keep it, and get rid of what you can get rid of as soon as you can get rid of it.”
Jim Kissane is a retired construction industry veteran, having served the design/construction industry for more than three decades. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org