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The odd diehard lawyer may still be clinging to the good old days of letters on nice thick paper, but most have transitioned into the modern age, and are all about electronics and the ether.…

The odd diehard lawyer may still be clinging to the good old days of letters on nice thick paper, but most have transitioned into the modern age, and are all about electronics and the ether. When Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) went electronic, search clerks nationwide mourned the little hard copy search request chits and the sweet sound of the bureaucratic rubber stamp.

Now, says LINZ, conveyancers have started thinking about how they store e-dealing documents, with many firms, including Hamilton firm Harkness Henry & Co and Langley Twigg in Napier, opting to store their authority and instruction (A&I) forms electronically to save time and space. These firms can destroy the paper version of stored documents after 10 years while retaining the electronic version, says Langley Twigg’s Peter Twigg.

In-house electronic data storage

The three critical kinds of data most organisations need to store electronically, according to Appserv Limited’s Managing Director Graham Clarke, are email systems, file systems, and document management systems, all of which have different sets of criteria in terms of how they should be stored. There’s no one size fits all policy, says Clarke, and there is always a cost. Not just the space itself but training and licensing costs can be a challenge for smaller firms.

Even if cost were not an issue, it may be difficult to find an integrated document management system which interfaces with your organisation’s email system and allows for documents, including emails, to be easily accessed, retrieved, and searched by client and matter.

On storing emails, Clarke says that 90 per cent of the difficulties arise from attachments. These days, the file size of even a simple Word document can be significant, as many documents contain not just words but embedded “meta-information”.

Behave!

Effective electronic data storage is as much about having a policy to govern your employees’ behaviour in respect of storing documents as it is about the technology, says Clarke, and it’s the dastardly inbox which presents the most problems. Inboxes, and email programs generally, are simply not a good place to store documents because once mailboxes get over about 2GB they tend to behave badly.

Backing up to online data facilities

Until now, system backup tapes have been the most common form of storage, but organisations are increasingly finding they do not meet the data storage needs of their business. Among other drawbacks, tapes require a significant amount of human input, checking, and reviewing, says Clarke.

The next generation technology, which US organisations are opting for in droves, is online storage in an “e-vault” type of set-up in which you pay $x to store x gigabytes of data.

If online data storage is indeed the way of the future, you’ll want to be aware of the factors which should influence your decision as to a provider. SMBStorage.com, in an article entitled “The Benefits of Online Backup and the Features to Look For”, suggests looking for proof of infrastructure when selecting a provider. Are the datacentres running the server owned or co-owned? Does the service provider have multiple datacentres so that if they have a disaster, your data is replicated to another site for recovery? Does the company have 24/7 support?

Clarke advises you should also consider the bandwidth requirements you’ll need for the data transfer to function satisfactorily, the length of time it will take to back your data up to the online service,and the cost once you go beyond the data-cap set by the ISP. Another thing to look at is security and access. You might need encryption, and you’ll want to check who covers the cost of the encryption and how it impacts on the amount of storage available to you.

For SMEs with explosive data growth but limited IT staff to manage the task of storing and data risks online data storage may be the key to letting go … while staying in touch.

This article first appeared in our sister publication NZ Lawyer

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