Long term storage & Digitalisation

07 MAY

In this blogpost Tommy Rosberg offers a different view on storing company information and wants you to make sure your company data can give you competitive advantages, now, and in the future.

Long term storage & digitalisation

5.000 years ago, information was carved into stone tablets and stored there. For a long time mankind was not able to access the information because the format was not one we could understand.

What are your thoughts on your long term storage of company specific data? Do you and your company have a clear strategy now and for the future how to store and maintain the intellectual properties and data volumes such as product data, revisions and changes owned by your company? 

Have you spent hours in meetings with consultants and IT-people trying to decide which formats to use for your data and what media to store it on? There are numerous data format standards and even more hardware solutions to choose from. All of them with their respective benefits and drawbacks. The guess what choices will be the most sustainable for the future is difficult.

I would like to offer a different angle to this discussion. Perhaps the data format will not be as critical in the future as it is today. Perhaps media will not either. Today, digitalization changes everything. As part of the digitalisation the parameters for long term data storage are bound to change too. But is the challenge really what we think it is?

Inventing new ways to read old data versus keeping old data updated

We know that data formats and media changes with new technologies. We also know that we can create new software to read old data. There is software that can read and interpret 5.000 year old stone tablets. I would say that that is pretty long term. The same goes for media. We can always copy data from one media to another. Even from or to stone tablets.

Reformatting data and updating storage is usually referred to as data maintenance. As long as we do it on a regular basis the efforts are reasonable when it comes to time and money spent. But the longer we wait, the harder the work will be. It’s the same with any type of maintenance. If you own a database and shut it down today with the intention to restart it in ten years, hooked up to the systems you will have then, I suspect you may have a problem. 

Benefits of digitalising the data

Consider the software that was created for reading ancient languages. This would have taken a lot longer to create than it would for me to write a simple I/O and print routine for an ASCII based text file on my laptop. Nevertheless, the basic operations of both softwares are the same; read data, interpret it and print the result. The difference is what we know about the data and what tools we have to our disposal when creating the solutions we need. 

For the ancient language on tablets we simply didn’t have the necessary tools and knowledge when we started. No maintenance had been done for thousands of years. But, what is really interesting here is that after the stone tablets have been read and interpreted, the same simple I/O and print routine I used for my ASCII file can be used to repeat the process with the information from the tablets. We have digitalized 5.000 year old information. Now the data is easy to access and we can learn from it.

Example: the Rosetta stone

Predictions about future product data management

The format and media challenges the stone tablets entailed were solved thanks to our curiosity and need to read and understand what was written on them. 

Will digitalization solve the same challenges in a broader perspective? I propose that digitalization, implemented correctly, will help keep data clean, up to date and compatible with available technologies simply through the fact that it is continuously being accessed and used. In the background data is reprocessed, reformatted and rewritten to whichever media we use, often without us even knowing about it. When it comes to data that is being used, maintenance is a natural and, to some extent, automatic part of the process.

Reasons for storing product data and keeping it accessible

Now someone is probably saying “I don’t use my data. I only store it for a long time.” Isn’t that missing out of the point of digitalization? The point is that we should make use of our data. Use it to gain competitive advantages. To make intelligent decisions. Reuse what has been done already. Be faster and more accurate. 

At least, this is what I and my colleagues at NEXTAGE believe digitalization is about. So, in the end, perhaps digitalization will show that the challenges with long term storage of information is not all about formats and media. Perhaps it’s more about creating processes and selecting solutions that will allow your company to use the data more efficiently. 

Another important choice are partners that can help you with all of this. After all, the information you have is the intellectual capital of your business. Using it wisely will help your business to accelerate and excel.

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Tommy Rosberg, Senior PLM Specialist, NEXTAGE

PLM, Strategy