Maintaining physical copies? In a world where the cloud is rapidly becoming king, it seems almost self-consciously retro – the logical extension of the hipster culture that bred the revival of vinyl records in recent years. At worst, it sounds counter-intuitive and out of touch.
Digital, cloud-based storage is definitely the way of the future. Even at their most basic level, digital storage solutions free up considerable physical space, which allows businesses to operate within smaller spaces and in a more efficient manner. Digital archives generally allow for a much quicker search time too, eliminating hours of searching for paper records that may or may not still exist.
But with this said, there are a number of occasions where it may be prudent to maintain a carefully curated physical archive. Below, are three key reasons why:
- Potential file obsolescence
- Client Peace of Mind
- For Posterity
Most of us reading have seen format obsolescence happen within the space of our own lives – 8-tracks, Betamax, cassettes or floppy discs, to name just a few. Even CD-ROM drives are beginning to disappear from newer computers. Cloud storage, of course, is deliberately intended to negate some of these issues by reducing the reliance on physical storage media, but the formats of the files themselves may still become an issue in future.
As a result, a number of experts have raised serious concerns about the potential for a “Digital Dark Age.” Products can be discontinued, businesses lose market share, developers die, and what was once easily accessible becomes virtually useless. For example, you can still play a CD from 1987 on a modern CD player, but good luck trying to use a floppy disk from the same era – if you still have a disk drive, there’s a good chance the disk itself will be corrupted, and even then it’s likely that your modern computer will no longer recognise the archaic formats the data was saved in.
Arguably the most famous example of this was the BBC Domesday Book Project, but that’s far from the only case – a few years ago, NASA also found itself in a similar situation with some of the data tapes from its early moon missions.
It’s frightening to think that such great moments of human discovery could be lost because of seemingly simple technical limitations – and though most company documents aren’t so earth-shaking in their contents, maintaining a physical archive of certain key information can be particularly useful if a crisis situation arises.
Though PCs have been commonplace in one form or another in the workplace and the home for several decades, there are still many people who prefer to utilise physical media for important documentation, such as business contracts, wills and tax records – even if they will later be backed up digitally.
This is sometimes born out of sentimentality, but it is also understandable from a practical standpoint; instances of high profile data breaches have increased in recent years, and people are understandably concerned about what could happen if their records are wiped and become unrecoverable – an unlikely, but not totally impossible situation.
There are legal implications too. Laws vary from country to country, but it is not uncommon for authorities to require tax-related records to be retained for a period of several years, in case of an audit. In Australia, this period is a minimum of five years, but may be longer if there is a dispute with the tax office – and for your own peace of mind, it’s probably best to retain them for the lifespan of the business itself. Electronic copies are legally valid, but in this case storing physical copies can actually make access easier – if organised properly.
Hidden beneath the Danish town of Billund is one of the world’s most carefully guarded archives – a secret vault that contains a copy of every Lego set ever manufactured, all the way back to the 1930s. Immaculately stored in a climate-controlled environment for future reference, it is an invaluable resource for the company.
Now this approach would not be advisable for every – or even most – companies. But the larger point is that Lego is clearly aware of the importance of retaining certain information about its past, and developing a brand identity that celebrates it. Even in our forward-looking world, there is considerable value in maintaining some kind of archive about the company’s history – it’s useful for providing new and current staff alike with a sense of the brand’s past, and where it will be heading in future. Importantly, it can also aid in re-centring a brand’s core values from time to time.
Ultimately, the specific requirements of your company will dictate the best approach when it comes to archiving. Digital, cloud-based storage is an essential toolkit for the modern business to aid in data recovery, but it is unlikely that physical records will ever totally disappear.
Steve Goh is Vice President/GM Asia-Pacific (APAC) & MEA (Middle East Africa) at Acronis.