In the era of big data, knowing what information to get rid of—a practice called proactive disposition—is just as important as knowing what to keep. But the tendency in many workplaces is to keep everything. In an October 2012 study on data retention by Cohasset Associates, Inc., a management consulting firm, more than 90 percent of respondents said areas of their companies had a “fear” of deleting information, and as a result, they tended to “over retain” or “hoard” data.
Deletion anxiety is not unfounded. In 2006, under amended Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, electronically stored information (ESI), such as e-mail, was deemed discoverable in civil litigation, which means opposing parties must disclose all the relevant electronic information the other team requests in e-discovery. If they are found to have deleted relevant information, it may hurt their case or result in fines or, in some circumstances, criminal charges. That factor has made companies reluctant to throw out files.
“We’re afraid to let go. We’re afraid to delete,” says Carol Stainbrook, executive director of the consulting practice at Cohasset Associates, who helps companies develop information management policies.
The rapid advancement of cloud technology and its ability to store copious amounts of data has only fueled the fire of hyper-preservation. “I think a lot of the enterprises get in the mind-set that, ‘well, okay, storage is so much cheaper now, and we’ve got all the storage we can use, why not save things?’ The reason is because it creates problems down the line,” says David Horrigan, an analyst for the 451 Group, and an expert in e-discovery and information governance.
The data duplication and re-creation of document files that’s involved in everyday computing tasks only compounds the problem. “It’s not just keeping too much data, it’s creating too much data,” Horrigan says. “People don’t realize how much data they’re creating every time they add new people to an e-mail thread. That data has multiple copies…. And then on top of that, [they’re] saving data they may not need to be saving.”