A Proposal for Archiving in Government

There are two fundamental problems with electronic content archiving in the US Government:

  1. Government employees, particularly senior staff members, are largely in charge of what gets archived and what doesn’t, and what archived content is retained or deleted.
  2. Many government employees use their personal accounts (or, in some cases, their own servers) to conduct government business.

Here’s a simple proposal to address these problems:

  • Every bit of information in emails, text messages, social media posts, files and all other content sources generated by government-owned devices, servers, cloud services and other platforms should be archived by an independent government entity, such as the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) or the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). This means that every government server automatically archives everything, without exception, and without advice from the employees whose content is archived.
  • Every government employee should be required to agree to one of the following: a) all of their personal emails, text messages, social media posts, files and all other content they generate on personal devices (or personal servers) will be securely archived by an independent government entity; or b) if they opt not to submit to having personal content archived and are later found to have been using a personal device or personally managed platform to transact government business, they will pay a fine equal to the past five years of their gross income and will relinquish any government pension for which they might have been eligible.
  • The independent entity that archives content will determine, at its sole discretion, what can safely be deleted from the archive. Things like spam, phishing emails, content that has no value as a record, and so forth, can be deleted based on policy established by NARA, the GAO or some other independent entity. However, the government employees whose information is archived cannot provide input or be consulted about the content that is retained or deleted. They should be able to access these records, but not provide input about what is retained or not.
  • All content that is retained must be kept for a minimum of 30 years unless NARA or a court determines that a longer retention period is warranted.

Information Overload is a Myth

A search for the term “information overload” in Google returns 3.68 million results, the second of which is a good definition of the problem: “exposure to or provision of too much information or data.” Wikipedia expands on the issue by defining it as “…a term used to describe the difficulty of understanding an issue and effectively making decisions when one has too much information about that issue. Generally, the term is associated with the excessive quantity of daily information.”

While the definitions are accurate, the fundamental issue with information overload is not really a problem with having too much information. Instead, it’s that we don’t have information curated in such a way as to present a limited set of the right information. For example, when I type “who starred in the movie grand prix” into Google, the first thing that shows up are photos of the cast. Google also provided many pages of additional search results, but curated a limited set of options that were most relevant to my inquiry, and it was the first one that satisfied that query. So, if Google had returned 300,000 other links and images, I would not have been overloaded with information because I could disregard everything but the right answer presented to me at the top of the list.

Similarly, if I need to find an email I sent to a prospect three days ago, does it matter if I have 36,745 emails in my inbox if my search returns just the email I was seeking? Not really.

So, what we’re really talking about with information overload is a lack of good search and good curation, which often begins with inadequate archiving of the right information. In the workplace, that lack of good search, curation and archiving manifests itself in a number of ways, most notably in the amount of time that employees spend searching for information. For example, a Software Advice survey found that some employees spend at least six hours per week searching for paper documents. A McKinsey report discovered that employees spend an average of 9.3 hours per week searching and gathering information. When it comes to information that is even more difficult to find, such as the job and client experience of my fellow employees that I might bring to bear on solving a problem, it may take even longer to find this information, if I can find it at all. Add to this the problem of information held in various silos across the enterprise and the situation becomes untenable, leading to regulatory, legal and employee productivity problems of various types.

Consequently, information overload really is not a thing — but inadequate search, curation and archiving definitely is.

Your Most Important Information Silos

I had the pleasure of attending Igloo Software’s annual ICE conference in San Antonio last week. The conference was very well run and held in a beautiful venue in the Texas hill country, and was something of a cross between a tech conference, a seminar on HR issues, and a symposium on the future of work. Very definitely time well spent and next year’s conference in Las Vegas will be free — Igloo’s president has even invited the company’s competitors to join the conference!

Igloo is in the business of providing a “digital workplace” — a digital destination that allows employees to get information, share information and integrate a growing variety of corporate tools like email and file sharing into a centralized, cohesive experience. One of the fundamental goals of the Igloo platform is to significantly reduce the friction that exists in the traditional employee communication and collaboration experience that relies on email, file-sharing platforms and other less-than-ideal collaboration tools. Using  the Igloo platform, employees can blog, share documents, find people within the company, manage tasks, share calendars, search for information and perform a wide range of other activities.

The ultimate goal is to improve employee engagement, which most all senior managers would acknowledge is valuable, but which too few prioritize with the resources necessary to make it happen. For example, a Towers Perrin study found that only 21 percent of employees are “engaged” on the job, eight percent are fully disengaged, and the rest are, at best, only partially engaged. Yet the more employees are engaged, the less likely they are to leave their employer, the lower their rate of absenteeism, the less likely they are to make mistakes on the job, and the more likely they are to please their customers — all of which results in lower costs and higher revenues.

One of the key benefits of Igloo’s digital workplace and solutions like it is the ability to reduce the negative impact of information silos. We hear lots about information silos in the context of physical repositories like email, CRM, ERP, HR systems and the like, and how these silos are proliferating as more cloud-based solutions are employed. Siloed information results in higher costs and more mistakes for activities like eDiscovery, litigation support, regulatory compliance or even just informal searches for data. Imagine, for example, conducing a Subject Access Request under the GDPR and you had 250 different silos of information to search through to find the requested information.

But what about your most critical information silos — the ones who go down the elevator shaft every night? Your employees are incredibly valuable sources of information that can provide enormous value above and beyond just what they do for your company — what they know that is not directly related to their job is also valuable. For example, what if Bob the salesman is trying to sell your company’s solutions to XYZ company. Would it be useful for Bob to know the decision influencers in XYZ that don’t show up on the organization chart and that might not have been at his introductory meeting? Maybe Alice the purchasing manager, who used to work at XYZ, might be able to provide some insight on who these influencers are. But if Bob and Alice don’t work together or even know each other, how is that going to happen? A digital destination that includes information on employees’ past experience can be the type of tool to bring employees together by breaking down the personal silos of information that we all possess.

Plus, a key value of a digital destination shared by most or all of the employees in a company is that it can bring people together in unexpected ways. For example, maybe Bob and Alice share photos of their pets or details of their river cruise down the Danube on the corporate digital workplace. That might be the catalyst that could start a conversation between the two that might end up providing useful information for Bob as he tries to sell into XYZ. At a minimum, a digital workplace enables a freer flow of information than would otherwise be possible and, hopefully, will make employees more engaged.