Back in July when I put out my call for guest bloggers on HARO, a kind PR professional referred me to Casdex. I was initially a bit skeptical about their digital archiving service, or rather, I expected my readers to be skeptical because of the price tag. $99/month for 5 GB? Compared to online backup services, that’s an outrageously high price.
But archives are not the same thing as backups. You need backups to be up-to-the-minute and to keep up with changing data. The frequency with which your data changes determines the frequency with which you need to back up. (Boy, that sentence really demonstrates what a grammar-pedant I am.)
Archives are for the data that doesn’t change. More importantly, archives are for data that shouldn’t change. Data that you need to produce in the event of an audit, or a court case. Or something as simple as your will, or the contracts you have with your clients, where you want to be able to prove that this is exactly what the contract said on the date you signed it, and yes, you really are entitled to interest on late payments.
In most cases, you hope you never have to retrieve the data that’s in your archive. You keep all your supporting documents for your tax deductions for 7 years, but you want those years to pass without any IRS audits. You don’t want to get into disputes with your client where you have to prove that the contract said a particular thing and yes, they really did sign it. You don’t want to fight with your siblings over whether something really is the last will and testament of your parents.
But if something like this happens, you’d better be able to prove your side. And that’s where digital archiving comes in. To quote the Casdex website as it was in July (it’s just been redone), archiving
protects your business from identity theft by storing your information in pieces in separate locations, salvages your company from disaster situations like floods by preserving your data in a remote location that’s always accessible via an Internet line, and lets you be 100% compliant with SOX and all those other fun government regulations facing companies of all sizes today. You create your file and set your own file retention time—which means that the data can be entered, saved and even forgotten—but if and when it needs to be retrieved again, it will be there.
The new website also makes the point that many companies waste time making repeated backups of data that really belongs in archives. But David Barley, Casdex’s CTO, put it to me this way: spending $99/month for digital archiving is cheaper than paying an auditor $60/hr to go through the paper records in your storage unit. A large company that needs to be compliant with SOX might pay $5 million for an archiving solution.
Even small companies might be subject to those “fun government regulations.” A therapist in private practice still has to deal with HIPAA, which not only requires you to keep patient information for a certain period of time, but to destroy it within a certain period of time. Casdex lets you do that automatically by setting data retention policies, either for individual documents or for folders. You get a report that tells you that your file is about to expire and prompt you to do something about it.
Datasheets on the new website emphasize the simplicity of the interface: you just drag and drop the items you want into Casdex. It’s so intuitive that there’s no need for training, or a manual. (I think they might overestimate the IT-savvy of their potential customers: nothing is so simple that it requires no explanation at all. A step-by-step guide with screenshots, or a video tutorial, never hurts.) You can access your account from any computer, and share documents with clients or with branch offices. Casdex keeps track of who uploads a file and when, and maintains the history and lifecycle of the file.
Attorneys dealing with the 2006 changes in the way lawyers have to deal with electronic information will be particularly interested in Casdex’s hashing algorithm. For those not familiar with it (I wasn’t), hashing lets you apply a digital fingerprint to your files. You then get two keys that match to show that a file hasn’t been tampered with. LexisNexis has an authenticating service that charges $1200 to fingerprint just one PDF. $99/month starts to look a lot better when you know that.
And 5 GB starts to look a lot larger when you think about how little of your data is likely to need true archiving like this.
Those of us whose industries have so far escaped government regulations might choose to take our chances on that IRS audit, but among the professions Casdex lists on its new site are
Financial (SEC Rule 17a-4)
Legal (2006 rulings about what documents are acceptable in the courtroom)
Real estate (particularly if you’re a mortgage broker in the middle of the housing meltdown)
Architecture (if the building falls down, you don’t want to be the one getting sued)
Accounting (IRS requirements for electronic storage systems)
Medical (HIPAA. It’s designed to protect patient privacy, but it creates exponential paperwork for doctors, dentists, and therapists.)
If you think hard about your own business, you can probably imagine applications for digital archiving. Say you’re a software developer, or a graphic designer, and you need protection beyond filing a copyright form or just think that $99/month is a better deal that $35/document. Theft of intellectual property is at an all-time high because of the ease with which electronic documents can be copied. If you’ve worked hard to create speaking and training materials, you might need to prove that you had them first, before someone else found them online and got rich using them.
Gosh. Maybe Casdex should hire me to think up new applications. 😉
Remember, though: archives are not a substitute for backups. You still need to be able to restore the files you work with every day. So even if you’re risk-tolerant and don’t want an archiving solution, make sure you back up early and often.