In 2011, Futurist Thomas Frey predicted the emergence of new career trends which will be increasingly important over the coming decades. One of these he called a “Waste Data Manager”, which he describes as follows:
“To insure data integrity in today’s fast evolving information storage industry, multiple redundancies have been built into the system. Achieving more streamline (sic) data storage in the future will require de-duplication specialists who can rid our data centers of needless copies and frivolous clutter.”
Most futurists are successful if they spot the trends correctly more than whether they get the details right. They definitely try to see the forest without much concern for the individual trees. So if we see any use in predictions like this, we should look at the overall trend rather than the specifics. Here Frey is addressing the problem of information proliferation, which has been an issue information managers have been dealing with for a number of years. Information proliferation has wider implications than just duplication. As information proliferates within an organization, information managers need to address issues arising from duplication, versioning, multiple media formats, legal status, archival authenticity, etc. While Frey categorizes duplicate records as “waste data”, the actual situation is more complex. Rather than de-duplication, what is needed is a management strategy to handle the increasing flood of record duplication and proliferation.
A good way to start with this is to ensure your organization has clear, reasonable and enforceable policies and procedures which define such things as:
- What is the “official” record?
- What are the conventions for identifying and tracking successive versions of records?
- When should copies be made (e.g. for backup, operational reasons, etc.), how long should they be kept, and when should centrally stored copies be used?
- Which originals, duplicates or versions have legal value or need to be discoverable in the event of legal proceedings?
- How can the security of confidential/proprietary records be maintained?
- Does more than one copy or version have archival value?
Frey is probably correct in that data duplication is an unstoppable trend, which is why your policies need to address how to manage the trend, rather than try to prevent it. It’s the difference between learning to swim and trying to fight the ocean from coming into shore. Does your organization recognize record proliferation as an important trend, and what is it doing to manage it?