Migrated from eDJGroupInc.com. Author: Greg Buckles. Published: 2011-03-11 10:47:44Format, images and links may no longer function correctly. The phrase ‘digital landfill’ seems to resonate with clients. Most have been in a state of analysis paralysis concerning email and native file destruction since the 2003 Zubalake decision. Many have never had any kind of real retention policy or workflow that would enable or encourage users to clean up their digital trash.  Yep, I just called all those spreadsheets, presentations, reports and other ESI flotsam and jetsam cluttering up your NAS trash.  The combination of the 2002 criminal Enron investigations and Judge Scheindlin’s decision effectively froze record destruction in energy trading companies. At the time, I thought that the combination of plummeting storage costs and the potential of criminal charges from the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act meant infinite retention for public corporations. Time and common sense disproved that notion, but I am now seeing corporations flinching from the last decade’s worth of digital debris littering their enterprise landscape. The user’s capability to create ESI far exceeds our ability to effectively categorize, manage and expire.

The allegory of the digital landfill seems appropriate and offers some interesting lessons. Modern global corporations are eerily similar to large cities. They attract citizens/employees from the hinterland and grow organically through M&A instead of annexation. Rapidly growing cities generate a more per capita waste and consume more resources than a relatively stable metropolis. They tend to create large landfills or ship waste overseas as a short term solution. Expanding corporations are constantly integrating different infrastructures, systems and work practices. When legal is unsure of how to properly preserve or scope legal holds, this creates legacy collections of hardware, storage and tapes. Cities learned the hard way that burying your waste (think back up tapes here) is neither efficient nor cost effective. As city infrastructure matures, they invest in recycling and other programs to minimize the waste being generated upstream. Citizen awareness (think retention policy here) is probably the strongest single factor in managing waste.

Corporations should tackle their digital landfills with enterprise wide initiatives based on lessons from the environmental movement.  Without clear policy, technology, training and workflow our corporate citizens will continue to hoard ESI long past any potential usefulness, “just in case”. Every office has their email hoarder. I have heard IT admins bragging about how they have every email going back to BITNET (you really don’t want to know how far back that goes). We have to change the perception of ESI hoarding from a virtue to a vice. From a discovery perspective, policy without compliance or enforcement is a liability. It just tells the other side what you knew that you ‘should’ have done.

The first step is to manage your ESI creation going forward. Change the image of the corporate hoarder so that users actively work to keep their mailbox, file shares, etc clean. This means providing them the means and guidance to achieve compliance. Microsoft Exchange was not designed to be a record repository. That lesson was hammered into my brain by one of the early Microsoft executives. We shall see what it evolves into, but based on my recent research on Exchange 2010, I believe that it is still not the right retention choice for large enterprises. This means investing in a records management system/archive. Every system has different capabilities, limitations, costs and potential benefits. Defining your requirements, scale and potential budget can help you winnow down the prospects, but the primary step is to get executive sponsorship of the initiative and a mandate to make it happen. Slow down the ESI being created/retained, then you can look at ways to actively or passively expire your digital landfill. The whole concept is daunting, but I have seen clients tackle this challenge. It is doable. Just think about how large your collection will be in a year or three. It is like the deficit, better to start now than have to deal with the snowball later.

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