I’ll admit it – Cloud is cool. Want to see my vacation pictures? I’ll send you a link. Maybe I want to listen to my CD collection while I’m staying at a hotel – it’s in the Cloud. New server? No problem – check back in 20 minutes. Just about everything related to IT can now be purchased “as a service” – software, platforms, infrastructure, storage, etc. Not only is it convenient, but also elastic. Most discussions about the Cloud center around security and costs, and rightly so, but this one does not.

Not so long ago a full and/or poorly-kept records center was a clear sign of trouble. The transition from traditional paper records to imaging and digital storage on shared drives held the promise of tidying up all of that disorganized, inaccessible information into neat, searchable folder hierarchies. In actuality, it often just exacerbated and enhanced the disorganization because it was not governed properly and was even more out-of-sight/out-of-mind than the basement records center.

When shared drives filled up and became unmanageable we migrated to SharePoint and content management systems that offered fresh hope for organizations because documents could have metadata and would reside in a database where better searching and categorization could be applied. But, as with the first transition, unless properly managed, the disorganization became worse because of sheer convenience, and an additional layer of abstraction.

Now we are in the midst of another transition from on-premise to cloud-based content management where yet another physical constraint has been all but removed. The IT staff won’t be requesting another server rack and you may not have anyone telling you how big the database is getting. Storage seems limitless because someone else is managing it. In the same way that freely running water from our taps makes it difficult to think about conservation, the elasticity of cloud storage will tempt users to store much more than they need to.

The lesson here is probably obvious – the same decisions we used to make about paper documents – “Do I really need to keep this” – apply even more in the cloud era. And, it needs to start now, before it gets out of hand.

Just in case you’re not convinced, let’s look at some numbers. Last year Gartner published a research paper titled, 2015 Strategic Road Map for Storage. The following two predictions stood out for me:

  • “By 2018, 50% of an enterprise’s data will reside external to the data center, up from 15% today.”
  • “By 2018, 50% of organizations will give up on managing data growth and will redirect funds to improve classification and analytics.”

Read that last bullet again.

The reason is that cloud storage is easily attained, convenient, and less expensive than maintaining an on-premise data center. But…cloud storage is often billed by the gigabyte stored per month, currently, in the range of 2-15 cents/GB/month, depending on plans, accessibility, volume, etc. As storage goes, that’s pretty cheap – unless it grows exponentially. And, while usage will keep growing, visibility will decrease (except for perhaps the accountants paying the bills).

Even more important than the issue of growing storage costs is the issue of governance. If data is growing exponentially then organizations will find themselves with the same problem they started with – a disorganized mess where nothing can be found easily. With users so accustomed to storing anything and everything in the Cloud through personal devices, it is now more important than ever to pay attention to those old issues of proper classification, retention scheduling, and metadata rules. But, it has to be done in a way that is not an impediment to user processes. Instead of asking a user about classification while saving a document, give them a logical place to store it and pre-categorize that location and auto-apply metadata. Much is being written about file analysis and predictive analytics, and there is certainly a need for it, but capturing the right information as a document is being stored is much easier than attempting it after the fact. And, while cloud options are being built it’s a great time to do just that.


Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide general education on Information Governance topics. The statements are informational only and do not constitute legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the application of the law to your business activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.