I’m still pondering the prediction made by Cisco a couple of weeks ago that worldwide mobile data traffic will reach 6.3 exabytes – or 6.3 billion gigabytes – by 2015. That’s a lot of data, and it’s only one kind of data. On top of coping with all that new information, IT also has the task of saving, archiving, managing, retrieving and ultimately destroying all the information we’ve created in the past. You know, all that stuff on computers and filing cabinets in your office, on tapes in the server room or maybe a warehouse a few states over.
Type in “records” on Dice, and you’ll see more than 6,400 job listings. “Records management” yields around 4,400. Knowing what you should keep, what you must keep, what you can safely destroy and what it takes to maintain security throughout the process is a huge job. Ideally we’d be able to purge business records after x number of years, the same way we all eventually shred our tax returns. But thanks to our friends at Enron (among others), the federal government generated new regulations for corporate compliance and came up with the concept of e-discovery, the complex guidelines that describe how records – including things like email archives – must be archived for easy access.
Paper records management is daunting, so most companies outsource it to large specialized firms like Iron Mountain. They have ironclad procedures for records storage and document destruction. Their trucks drive around picking up paper and then scan, index, store and/or shred it. The result is a searchable database that puts everything a few keystrokes away, no dusty file rooms required. The cost is theoretically offset by the improvement in productivity.
This is why so much of the discussion about “fixing the healthcare system” revolves around EHRs – electronic health records – and why we keep hearing that healthcare is one industry where IT professionals are very much in demand. You know what it looks like behind the receptionist’s desk at your doctor’s office: row after row of shelves filled with colorfully tagged files. Of course all that should be paperless, and someday it will be if enough technological know-how is brought to bear. Once again, a search at Dice proves the point. Search “healthcare” and get some 3,900 listings.
Along with the federal government, many states are pushing the idea of EHRs. In turn, more tech folks are looking hard at records in all their many shapes and forms. It’s a big area, combining the latest in indexing, database management, backup technologies, and cloud-based solutions. But is it boring? Perhaps at first glance, but as we often say around here, being the architect of a solution that saves time and money is the key to moving ahead in IT. The higher-ups may not have the tech skills to admire your new indexing scheme, but they’ll love the 20 percent cost reduction that you engineer.
So: What talents can you tap into to tame paper avalanches? Package them correctly and they’ll make you very popular.
— Don Willmott