Why Do We Keep Moving Files?
What Is Our Problem?
With all the buzz about the cloud and big data, have you ever noticed how much we simply MOVE data as a regular course of business? It’s really kind of ridiculous given we live in an age where virtually anything is reference-able in situ via a URL or some other link. If it’s in your email it’s on an email server. If it’s on your laptop it’s also backed up or archived. And probably everything is somewhere on one or more internal Share Point sites. Yet we continue to just move stuff around. If you’ve ever typed “can you just send me the latest copy of…” you, like me, are part of the problem.
Basic Industrial Design
When I was in grad school and studying industrial engineering I always remember the axiom that in process design, every time you move something and don’t do something to it you are effectively burning time and money. This premise is behind all the best manufacturing designs. Either you work on items while you move them, or you keep things in place and do work on them there. An assembly line is the classic example of the former, and an operating room is great example of the latter. It makes common sense when you consider it. Moving an item from point A to point B does not add any value. What it does do, however, is waste effort and introduce potential errors. Think about it. If you move something you expend energy, divert resources and risk something bad happening along the way.
In IT, the situation is exacerbated by the facts that 1) the resources employed to move virtual items are hidden from most of us, and 2) unlike physical objects, virtual objects can easily be duplicated as part of the movement. Those two dimensions conspire to make how we handle IT assets a hot mess of inefficiency. We move files all over the enterprise as well as in and out of the enterprise without considering the resource cost. In fact, in most cases we don’t just move IT assets, we copy them! This drives up costs, makes IT asset management a shell game and radically complicates information governance.
Step 1: Challenge Our Assumptions
The way out of this conundrum, like many things, starts with challenging our current assumptions. I’m sure there was a reason why we have copies of data for disaster recovery, and other copies for archives, and other copies for records management, and even more copies in our content management systems, but maybe we should rethink this. If I have a file that needs to be protected from inadvertent loss, isn’t one copy of it sufficient? Shouldn’t that one copy be able to serve as disaster recovery option, archive, record, etc? The answer is of course yes it should, but it requires we change our assumptions of how we manage data.
Another challenge is to how we share files in our daily work flows, and we can take lessons from consumer trends. The advent of smart phones and tablets has refocused consumer IT on the missions of ‘consuming content’ or ‘creating content’. Less and less we focus on what ‘files’ we have on our devices as long as we know we have access to the song or book or movie we want. Given the ubiquity of high bandwidth connections, do we really need to move or copy files in the enterprise when users simply access them where they reside? There will always be ‘road warriors’ who say they need offline access or they can’t do their job, but that is more a matter of letting the 1% drive the requirements for the other 99%. Imagine the IT asset leaps in efficiency if we moved to a paradigm of assured access to content irrespective of file location.
Step 2: Envision How Different Things Could Be
This isn’t just about inefficiency, though that is rationale enough to rethink enterprise IT, but allows us to revisit many of our data and information challenges. How much more structured and flexible does Information Governance become if files are no longer hiding in every nook and cranny of the organization, but centrally accessible and managed? How much more secure does the enterprise become if there isn’t a steady flow of file content into and out of the organization just to handle the simplest tasks? How does the edge hardware of the enterprise change/simplify if assets are used to interact with data rather than copy, move and store them? How much simpler does a mobile strategy get if the focus is on consuming and editing content rather than files?
These changes are evolving today. The move to the ‘cloud’ is stimulating many of these conversations across all enterprises. Perhaps most exciting is that it portends another wave of IT innovation that both improves user experience and productivity while driving down costs.