Government // Big Data Analytics
Commentary
12/10/2013
10:01 AM
Joel Westphal
Joel Westphal
Commentary
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The War On Military Records

The era of big data has arrived on the battlefield and we need to find new ways to deal with it.

This same paradigm shift has also caused the vast expansion of records and material to preserve. Just 10 years ago, we were dealing with gigabytes of data. Now we are trying to manage terabytes and petabytes. In essence, the era of big data had arrived on the battlefield and we needed to find new ways to deal with it.

The volume of records that were successfully preserved by US Central Command in the second Gulf War amounted to more than 54 terabytes. That's more than 40 million files and documents! However, only a percentage of these records -- between 10 and 15 terabytes are actually deemed to be of a permanent nature by the National Archives.

That introduces another question: How does one separate the wheat from the chaff of a collection of records that if converted to paper would reach 270,000 feet high? And do that with only a staff of three?

The answer can be found using technology available from firms such as Active Navigation Inc. I first saw the potential of Active Navigation's File Analysis capabilities at the ARMA 2010 trade show and was impressed by the way File Analysis could extract value from content for which we had no previous knowledge, a form of blind discovery.

The tool allowed us to quickly get grasp an overall view of our information estate, quickly identify redundant, obsolete and trivial content (also known as ROT), and remove duplicate records. Reducing the total estate is crucial, and the way forward, because the alternative of keeping it all is simply no longer a viable option, given government IT budgets and the increasing costs of long term storage and back-up infrastructure.

For years, we in the records business have heard of such tools being called a game changer. To be honest, I was not a believer. I have since changed my mind. I'm now convinced, if appropriately combined with other records tools, these products can help government agencies, businesses, universities, and private companies save millions of dollars in un-needed storage, back-up infrastructure and eDiscovery costs.

These tools are valuable in other ways. Active Navigation, for instance, has the ability to identify privacy data (such as Social Security numbers) and ultimately augment the content with relevant metadata, extracted from the document itself, using natural language processing, making document identification more accurate and complete prior to handover to the National Archives and Records Administration.

The modern "War on Records" has just begun. Big data has presented a monumental challenge for today's Records and Information Managers. To combat this problem, new innovative systems are often required. When I was presented with the challenges of the OIF collection I did not look for twentieth century solutions for a twenty-first century problem. I truly believe that if technology is the problem, better technology is often the solution to it.

Today's records and information management technology has improved to such a point that even organizations with minimal staffing can deal with the big data problems persistent in both the private and public business spheres. Our nation's historical record depends on it!

Joel Westphal is the Agency Records Officer for the Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C. He also serves on the National Archives Federal Records Council. He previously worked at US Central Command, as the Chief, Records Management Section.

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WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
1/2/2014 | 10:45:09 AM
e-Discovery
Interesting update to this discussion on archives. As we reported this past week: Federal legal professionals appear to be losing confidence in the ability of their agencies to deal effectively with the rising challenges of electronic discovery.

Only 38% of respondents believed that, if challenged by a court or opposing counsel, their agencies could demonstrate that their electronically stored information (ESI) is accurate, accessible, complete, and trustworthy, compared to 68% in 2012. Moreover, the percentage of "not at all confident" responses to this question nearly doubled, from 23% to 42%., according to Deloitte's latest benchmarking study of electronic discovery practices in the government.  You can read more at:

http://www.informationweek.com/security/compliance/federal-agencies-lack-e-discovery-savvy---/d/d-id/1113271?

 
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
12/12/2013 | 1:10:14 PM
The point is well taken
One of the ways in which we learn from past wars (and many other things) is by examining their records.  If the records of the Gulf War were lost through mere carelessness, then blame rests at the desk of then-Secretary of Defence Cheney (a former White House Chief of Staff), who surely had enough of a sense of history to know better.  Ironic that his handling of the war was almost certainly got him the Republican VP nomination in 2000.

 
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
12/11/2013 | 6:05:01 PM
Re: Preserving Public Records
Joel5171, thanks for your reply to my question, regarding whether these file analysis tools might breed a false sense of security.  You noted didn't have enough space to share more on this. Based on the number of comments and interest here, we'd be happy to have you consider elaborating on these points in another article.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
12/11/2013 | 6:00:51 PM
Re: Terabyte Limit Doesn't Compute
It appears there's a bit of a misunderstanding here: When Joel wrote that the National Archives only deemed between 10 and 15 terabytes of the 54 TB generated by US Central Command to be of a permanent nature, he wasn't referring to a capacity problem but to statutes agencies must follow in preserving certain types documents for the nation's public (and historic) record. (You can fault the way government buys IT these days, but buying storage isn't the problem.)

 
Joel5171
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Joel5171,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/11/2013 | 1:32:31 PM
Re: Terabyte Limit Doesn't Compute
The great thing about Active Nav was that it allowed us to go through and find those 15 copies or drafts and then asks how many you would like to keep. It also goes further, and can find near like (not exact) documents and you can get a grasp of those.

For someone who has been working with records both in and outside the federal government, I can tell you the issue of document creep is a big problem. In my experience these File Analysis tools really can help attack that problem.

It was perhaps only 6 years or so I used to laugh when companies that told me they could do auto-classification. Now, in combination with other products like an ERMA, I truly feel that they are requirement for agencies/organizations who have a lot of data. 

The PII and de-duplification, finding all those 0 byte files and empty folders is just icing on the cake!
aidtofind
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aidtofind,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/11/2013 | 10:57:36 AM
Re: Terabyte Limit Doesn't Compute
As an archivist who formerly worked for a state government, I'm not the slightest bit surprised that 75% of the total number of documents generated in the conflict turned out to be redundant and/or inconsequential.  Usually by the time documents reach an archives, they've been picked over by their creators and many duplicates and low-content items have already been discarded; even when that's the case it's quite common for the archivist to further "weed" multiple copies of memos, duplicates of reports filed elsewhere, etc.  How much more so when it sounds like this project caused the documents to more or less come straight to NARA without that filtering?  

Beyond the cost of storage, there's also the fact that a bloated, duplicate-ridden collection is more difficult to search and use than a streamlined one.  What Li Tan said is accurate:  "Keep it all" would be akin to an individual carefully filing away every single scrap of paper that ever came into her house, whether it was information-packed correspondence from distant family members or the fifteenth copy of the exact same Little Caesars flier.  It's not helpful to researchers, and it's not an effective use of funds.  I do believe that great care must be taken in determining which materials are truly redundant, and there needs to be transparency in terms of what's being kept versus what's being discarded, but it's extremely rare for "Keep it all" to be the appropriate response to the intake of a large collection.

Also, can I just say that the idea of software that identifies potential privacy issues in the documents warms my heart?  I can't tell you how much time I spent combing through materials we were going to provide to researchers to make sure we wouldn't be revealing social security numbers. 
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
12/10/2013 | 10:43:54 PM
Re: Terabyte Limit Doesn't Compute
Save everything is just like keeping all the posts you have received from banks, companies and government agencies. These posts are of importance when they first arrived so you would like to keep them in case of future reference needed. But normally what has happened is that, most of these posts will stay in pile without being touched anymore. Furthermore, save everything will leave you a dilemma: you don't know what is really important for you and when you really need something, simly you are not able to find it. So it's quite important to identify really valuable stuff instead of saving everything.
AlvinP563
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AlvinP563,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/10/2013 | 6:31:59 PM
Take a closer look.
If there is indeed a war on Military records, it would be the government giving the order for records to be distroyed.

The 1st Gulf war is recorded as the most toxic war in "Western military history" due to the vast array of toxic exposures troops were forced to encounter, this consisted in the main of Toxic fallout plumes from the allied boming of enemy chemicle weapons sites, Deplited uranium dust from our very own ordinence, Toxic smoke inhelation from multiple oil well fires.

In addition, troops were ORDERD to take a experimental cocktail of drugs.

It has been widely reported over the last 23 years that 1 in 4 Desert Storm veterans have come down with serious multiple illnesess, many have sadly died.

All this talk about costings and admin problems for the retention and management of battlefield records is a mere deflection from the truth.

The real reason records go missing is two fold, 1. To hide embarissment & negligence exposures  2. To avoid any legal litigation resulting from such action, pure and simple.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
12/10/2013 | 4:39:59 PM
Re: Terabyte Limit Doesn't Compute
> Save everything! History won't forgive you for repeting the same mistakes you described after the first Gulf War.

If you save everything, you're inviting a maintenance cost that will grow over time. In my experience, data that isn't in motion, being maintained and updated, quickly becomes inaccessible. Selectivity might end up being a better use of tax dollars.
Joel5171
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Joel5171,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/10/2013 | 3:16:40 PM
Re: Terabyte Limit Doesn't Compute
As far as I know there is no cloud for classified records, nor do I think ther ever should be unless there is full assurance that those records are protected until such time as they are declassified. 
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