Monday, July 09, 2007

Digital Data Crisis

There is a fascinating and terrifying story on the BBC News website that is well worth the time to read. In essence the reporter tells us that the chief executive of the UK National Archives warns there is a "ticking time bomb" in our problem of accessing old digital file formats.

Scary but it makes a great deal of sense. The thought of losing years worth of critical knowledge because we can no longer access old file formats is not new to those of us who may have archived an old computer without removing all of the data.
Doing so now, years later, would be quite difficult if we had forgotten things such as passwords or types of software.

In this story, Gordan Frazer, the UK head of Microsoft, warned of a "digital dark age."

Identifying, capturing and re-using critical knowledge is a foundational concept of knowledge management. Technology has long been thought to be not only an enabler, but to some it is the most important tool. Now, it seems, technology becomes the biggest challenge if we do not ensure data access.

And do we care? Remembering the stories from David DeLong's Book, 'Lost Knowledge', you bet we care. Do we have the time, the resources or the patience to re-learn what has already been learned? Is it not arrogant of us to think we need not build off of past knowledge as we create new products, ideas, concepts?

It seems we could face, on a much larger scale, the issues we face in our organizations each day-- determining if we have time and desire to learn from the past. I have written about this often and experience it with almost every client. And we have terabytes of data at risk in this brave new world.

Is it not worth the time for us to consider how we can mitigate the risk of not being able to utilize data, information and knowledge created in the past few years or the past many years? Are we shortsighted enough as a society that we believe we can simply let all of our past learnings go?

Would we be willing to do that as individuals? What if we had to let go of every lesson we had learned in our lives, save those in the past few years, unless they were embedded in us. In addition, we could not pass the old lessons on to our offspring because we had lost it. Does that make sense on a personal level? Does it make more sense on a professional level?

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