Anyone familiar with electronic discovery knows the problems caused by duplicates: information bloat that drives up the cost and complexity of information management and e-Discovery. In most corporate electronic information repositories multiple copies of records are abundant. In response, attention in the early development of e-Discovery software was on identifying and eliminating duplicate content. For e-Discovery, this problem has now been solved.
When discussing information management, we are increasingly finding that duplicates are being addressed in the same way: something to contain, if not eliminate. After all, what value is there in keeping dozens of copies of each record? Many records and document management systems are focused on the “one official copy” objective, with processes being put in place to severely restrict the duplication of content.
The “one official copy” objective fails to recognize the cause of duplicate proliferation: the people who use the information do not trust that they will be able to find what they need, when they need it, unless they organize it themselves. Putting their faith in the centrally controlled document management system is akin to throwing their records into a big pile in a room – sure, they can wade through it and, given enough time, find what they need, but who has the time or patience to do that? The desire to control one’s personal document repository is deeply ingrained in today’s corporate culture, and is one leading reason why information management plans either never get off the ground or fail when implemented.
Perhaps it is time to question the “one official copy” approach. We know that exact duplicates are easy to locate and track. We know that workers are more efficient if they have important information at their fingertips – organized in a way that makes it accessible to them. Rather than struggling to reduce or eliminate duplicates, information management systems should be designed to track and link them. Every time a copy is made, whether it’s attaching a file to an email and sending it to multiple recipients, saving an attachment to a local folder, or making a copy for a rainy day, the IM system should record its location, apply security as required, and aggregate the metadata each user adds. To manage that record, all copies should be managed at the same time, according to the overall value to the organization. In the meantime, rather than punishing individual information workers by forcing them to store things in a way that, for them, is inefficient, we can benefit from the added (metadata) value they provide. As long as we know when a document is the “official” document, does it really matter how may copies there are?
Unfortunately, this seemingly obvious solution to one information management challenge has been slow to emerge. While some innovative software vendors are moving in this direction, an almost insurmountable hurdle is the fact that almost everyone uses computers with an operating system that really has not changed much since the introduction of the original IBM PC in 1981. MS DOS (and Windows, which essentially sits on top of DOS), has almost no facility to manage information.
But hope is on the horizon. The migration to the cloud (lead by Office 365) is ushering in a new era. Office 365 was built from the ground up with IM in mind. Software vendors can (and some already do) manage all information created in Office 365 or stored on OneDrive. Google Docs and Apple iCloud have similar features.
As more and more organizations migrate their desktops and servers to the cloud, the challenge of managing duplicates may finally be overcome.