Storing Big Data: New Technology Helps Organize and Protect Agencies’ Electronic Information
New standards and technologies in the Information Age have given architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms both new benefits and challenges. For instance, when the General Services Administration mandated that all government projects must be designed electronically using building information modeling (BIM), the industry began experiencing a number of benefits in building quality. However, the same standard means that significantly higher volumes of electronic data is now created and must be managed.
Now that public sector agencies and the contractors that support them have more digital data than before, new government regulations, such as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Sarbanes Oxley Act, say that electronic data now qualifies as documents of record in court.
“Not only are we creating more data than ever before, but that data is also more important than ever before,” says Chris Grossman, senior vice president of Rand Worldwide, one of the world’s largest providers of Autodesk software and a provider of high-performance data archiving and security for the AEC industry. In many cases, the amount of data AEC companies create in the form of CAD models, email communication, instant messaging, project documentation, scanned information, and other data types has increased two to three times in the past five years and is growing at a rate of 30 percent to 40 percent each year.
“As people hurried to get up to speed on BIM tools over the past several years, the data being collected was forgotten. But now AEC firms and government contactors are doubling their amount of data every 18 months, and it is becoming difficult to manage.” Like the litigious banking and legal industries, AEC industry firms and agencies are now looking for ways to comply with government regulations regarding data, protect their data and make it searchable. Rand Worldwide’s Rand Secure Archive offers a solution that a growing number of AEC agencies and firms are implementing.
While the technology that drives data solutions like Rand Secure Archive has been around for about a decade, it has been adopted most often for the most litigious industries, such as banking, healthcare and legal firms. In the past few years, some AEC firms have become interested in using such solutions “as an insurance policy, ‘in case we get in trouble,’” Grossman says. “But now there’s greater interest because the data growth has been so huge, companies cannot keep up with it.”
Because BIM and ITD are still important criteria for decisions about which firms win government contracts, AEC firms are now rapidly adopting data management solutions. “We help firms mitigate the impact of big data,” Grossman says. That includes:
- Establishing and enforcing better data governance standards. “Organizations have to set up a data governance standard, which answers questions such as, what will happen to my data? How long will it be available? And who can delete it?” Grossman says. Rand Secure Archive can help inform those standards and ensure that they will be followed. For instance, setting the right data retention policies is a necessity for both internal data governance and legal compliance. Some data must be retained for many years, while other data may only be needed for days. Solutions such as Rand Secure Archive allow firms to easily set different data retention polices for all the different data types.
- Incorporating better storage. A total data solution can help organizations organize their data in a standard, searchable way. “Engineers and architects traditionally save their data wherever it makes the most sense to them,” Grossman says. “But that might not be best for others searching.” And a total solution includes standard storage and searchability for all types of documents. While email archiving is one of the major components of a comprehensive data archiving solution, firms can’t overlook their other electronically stored information such as instant messages, images, Office documents, videos and voicemails, Grossman says. Rand Secure Archive supports more than 1,200 file types in more than 140 languages to help firms manage both their structured and unstructured data.
- Ensuring government compliance and protection. The technology that drives solutions like Rand Secure Archive protects organizations by making sure all their data is searchable and legally discoverable when challenged, as required by government regulations. “If you are a contractor and your data is challenged in court, you have to be able to prove that you have the data, and to do that, you have to be able to find it,” Grossman says.
Harnessing all the digital data a organization owns, as more is created constantly, can seem like an overwhelming challenge. But it doesn’t have to be, Grossman says. With high technology solutions such as the Rand Secure Archive, firms can get their data governed, searchable and protected in about one to two weeks. “There’s a tremendous amount of commonality among AEC firms and their data,” Grossman says. “We can get every agency to about the 80 percent level [of data archiving and security] very quickly. Then we work closely with each agency to customize the last 20 percent.”
Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance journalist who writes regularly about local government and sustainability issues. Learn more about her at www.nancyjackson.com.