Reorganizing Your Digital Closet

Around lunchtime last week, I noticed I had six missed calls. A sudden charge of fear shot through me: Who died? Where’s my car? Is my apartment building on fire?

I relaxed when I saw it was just my old college friend, “Murph.” Murph obviously had something to tell me that couldn’t wait. Maybe he finally married that girlfriend of his in Vegas? Maybe he was in jail? I called him back; it only took a half a ring for him to pick up. No pleasantries from Murph that day. He was all business.

“Quick. Are you at your computer?” he asked. I was.

“I need the phone number to the Kenyan Embassy.”

I could tell from his voice he was absolutely serious. But I couldn’t help but jive him a little.

“Are you involved in some sort of international crisis, Murph?”

“Just Google Kenyan Embassy and give me the phone number. Seriously, please.”

I quickly gave Murph the number and spent the rest of the day trying to figure out why in God’s name he needed that information.

I called him back later to get filled in on the details. Turns out he was finalizing his resume to bring to a second job interview for a position he desperately wanted. Unbeknownst to me, Murph had a brief internship with the Kenyan Embassy and had forgotten the last names of his supervisors. Because a few years had passed, and the last names he was forgetting were Kenyan, and thus, not exactly Smith or Jones, he was clueless. He also wanted to have a bulletproof resume; this wasn’t going to stop him. What would stop him, though, was his parents’ dial-up Internet connection, which proved too slow for him to surf around and find the names.

To his credit, though, Murph knew about his parents’ slow computer and its inability to rapidly search the Web. He had planned on only going to one site — his college e-mail portal. The problem was, his account had been deleted six months after he graduated, which in Murph’s unfortunate case was two days prior to this incident. Four years of contacts and correspondences — both personal and professional — were gone, vanished. He was able to call and get what he needed from the embassy (thanks to me), but he couldn’t accept, even hours later, that his college account was dead.

“I had everything in there,” he said.

Read from a more computer literate perspective, Murph’s story is filled with plenty of instances where one could say, “Why didn’t he just ____” and “Why couldn’t he ____,” but that would be expecting more from Murph than you should.

As Gen Y moves into the working world, many don’t have Rolodexes or address books, and most don’t carry pens and paper with them. There is their computer and their phone, period. Even those two are merged now, thanks to the BlackBerry and iPhone. Are there preventive actions one should take to avoid a crisis involving these devices? Yes. But I don’t need to tell you, loyal CertMag readers, that it’s dubious to rely on an end user to be that advanced.

The heart of this issue is storage. We, as a global economy, are not building more filing cabinets, we’re creating more gigs. We have much more information on smaller devices, whether it’s a PowerPoint presentation or a Beatles album. Laziness in organizing those things not only can wreak havoc on the user, but in the context of a job, can make a lack of succession planning or even just taking a day off a nightmare for a co-worker.

Recently, I attended a storage summit, and over lunch, this issue was the main topic our table was discussing (complaining about). Each person had a nightmarish story of spending hours going through an ex-employee’s computer system and e-mail. Most were looking for a simple yet crucial piece of information — a phone number, a Word file — which they likened to finding a needle in a haystack.

Digital devices, e-mail accounts, virtual storage spaces, etc.: These are our bedroom closets in the 21st century. Although they are much smaller, the information inside can get just as messy. As kids grow up with their entire lives on a hard drive, it’s imperative they know the limitations and expirations of the things they rely on. (I’m talking to you, Murph!) As IT professionals, de facto IT trendsetters and leaders, emphasizing storage organization and standards, however unique they may be, is something that can help your company run more smoothly. Ultimately, that will help the bottom line.

– Ben Warden, bwarden@certmag.com

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