Once companies have brought their email under control using intelligent archiving, the freedom and performance boost this gives them is likely to have whetted their appetite for a similar approach to information management more generally. At an email level, they will have seen archiving remove the need for local folders on desktops, and introduce a superior search capability – one that even ’sees’ attached content and de-duplicates all those ‘copied just in case’ versions to reduce admin and storage costs.
Having identified the broader benefits, many software vendors have now extended their archiving capabilities to encompass enterprise information more generally, offering additional efficiency and productivity gains by enabling all manner of content to be consolidated in an intelligent, rapidly-searchable archive.
Enterprise Information Archiving is the label now given to this discipline. This does not refer simply to word-based content, but also including video, voice and even social formats such as wikis and blogs.
Social Media – an added dimension
Most businesses stand to benefit extensively from the ability to consolidate and more intelligently manage this wealth of content. This is because content control within their user populations has become a significantly more difficult challenge in recent years. This encompasses more than just internal information governance or IT storage resources now, particularly as content is extended outside the confines of the modern enterprise (if it hasn’t already), via any Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter communities the organisation has developed. Now, the CIO and CFO’s big question is how to reduce cost while increasing the value of the new content.
Success here means adopting a holistic approach to information governance. This might include new user policies, together with an approach that encapsulates an enterprise-wide view of both structured (eg formal documents) and unstructured information (eg email). Traditionally, this diverse content is held and managed in numerous silos, across disparate systems and multiple repositories, with the result that related content cannot be easily reconciled.
The upshot is often that a lot of content is stored in more than one form in more than one place, leading to duplication, inconsistency and inaccuracies, not to mention poor information access and the consumption of huge amounts of primary (expensive) storage capacity. It is as companies try to bring these vast content assets under some kind of control so that their full value can be released, that their interest in enterprise information archiving solutions has peaked.
It is no coincidence that market analysts are paying growing attention to this genre of IT solutions, with authoritative sources like Gartner producing comprehensive reports on the subject and related themes including information valuation and information governance (eg Gartner’s Enterprise Information Archiving Transforms the Strategy and Approach for Archiving by Kenneth Chin and Sheila Childs, G00201236).
A common observation made in such market studies is that a significant proportion of large enterprises are being held back by the plethora of different document, records and archive management solutions that exist within their organisations – systems that have been supplied by competing vendors, with the result that there is no real prospect of effective content integration. The technical functionality is there, but this is not being coordinated from one content management solution or department in the organisation to another.
More than productivity at risk
The implications are wider reaching than simply hampering productivity and efficiency, too. Even leaving aside the need to serve customers and users more promptly and satisfactorily than ever before, organisations across a wide range of market sectors are now under great pressure to comply with a need for formal audit trails and other information compliance requirements, which demand a more joined-up approach to content management and information access (eg e-Discovery).
The situation will only become more challenging, too. The introduction of new information platforms (consider the runaway success of Microsoft SharePoint and similar collaboration tools) coupled with the growing demand to harness solutions hosted in the ‘cloud’, are only adding to the complexity of the choices available to those seeking to address this data management issue.
Early adopters of SharePoint have now been reminded that relational databases such as Microsoft SQL are not ideal repositories for large document content, through the recommendation by Microsoft, even in SharePoint 2010, that such content should be kept to around 100GB. This obvious limitation provides considerable opportunity for traditional electronic content management (ECM) system vendors to leverage existing offerings to provide much greater scalability, offering companies a complementary solution which deals intelligently and efficiently with surplus yet still-important content.
Effective enterprise information archiving is not just about storing content more efficiently, though. If correct, up-to-date information is to be retrieved again, quickly and with full confidence that the content being accessed is the definitive, correct version, there needs to be inherent intelligence in the way that content is processed for archiving. Only if the content can be meaningful again, once retrieved, can it retain its value.
Many organisations seem to be taking the view that new web content management and collaboration platforms can be used as a means of relieving the content pressure on corporate file and print environments, but this is a potentially risky assumption. Content analysis and ‘weeding’ is crucial, in paring down the volume of content for storage to a core that is justified, while electronic de-duplication also plays a role in mitigating subsequent storage costs.
Equally important is developing a taxonomy or vocabulary for the presentation of existing and new information to make it relevant for users. If costly mistakes are to be avoided, all of this vital preparation work should ideally take place before any technical implementation. There is no point burying treasure if no one will ever be able to find it again.
As with anything, the key to success is recognising that you will only get out of an initiative what you put in. Being clear about why the organisation needs to consolidate and better control its content, and what it needs to achieve in the process, is an essential starting point. Choosing the right implementation partner to take the company on the required journey completes the strategy, as it is they that will bring the requisite technology knowledge and experience to bear, applying this to the needs list you have set out. Once the instructions have been given, having a clear map and an experienced driver will be the best bet to get from A to B in the shortest time.