Information Governance

Save & Search vs. Sort & Delete

The popular North American television show, "Hoarders," features people who store and keep every item that ever comes into their possession – including items that most people would simply toss. Most people featured on the show see no problem with keeping mountains of items, "just in case." Each episode usually ends with professional sorting, organizing, removing, and managing the mountains of items.

The main draw of this show is the tug-of-war dynamic that occurs between the subjects and the organizers. For the subjects of Hoarders there comes a point in their lives when they accumulate so much stuff, that it becomes easier to just store it rather than painstakingly sort through it all. In addition, they become so worried about disposing of something that they may one day need that the idea of sorting and removing items seems completely illogical. The organizers on the other hand, always insist that some items will never be useful, and keeping them may even carry a great deal of risk.

So what does all of this have to do with information governance (IG)? The dynamic described above helps to illustrate the tension between two sides of a growing debate taking place within the IG industry. On one side, we have those who advocate for a "save & search" approach. On the other, we have those who advocate for a "sort & delete" approach. Both camps have interesting arguments supporting their positions, as summarized in the chart below.

Save & Search Sort & Delete
• Search technology has become a reliable way to search through and retrieve certain information from a vast database. • Search features require cataloguing to be effective, which requires a significant investment in time and effort.
• Information storage costs have become negligible. • Information itself carries risk. The more information that is stored by an organization, the more that may be compromised in a breach.
• Sorting information will become prohibitively costly with the exponential growth in the amount of information to be managed. • Regulation and privacy laws apply strict obligations with respect to the storage of certain information.
• As computing power and investment in big data research increases, all information will be useful someday – for helping to spot trends, or other similar uses. • Computing power is still years away from efficiently mining information for meta-trends. Companies that store information in the belief that it may one day become useful face indefinite storage costs, as well as management costs and obligations. Furthermore, the vast majority of information that is useless today is likely to be useless in the future.

Our thoughts on this debate

IG is about managing risk while optimizing efficiency. The save & search approach focuses heavily on optimizing efficiency, but it fails to manage the web of legal and practical risks associated with perpetually storing information. At this point in time, saving everything is not a viable option for most businesses, and disposing of data that has no business value substantially mitigates risk. Much like those on the TV show Hoarders, businesses that adopt the save & search approach may end up losing sight of their current risks while needlessly amassing large amounts of information "just in case."


Contributor – Zia Hassan