Thursday, February 19, 2009

How much data?

Back in the day when computers like these (my first computer!) had data storage in the megabyte range, no-one thought of storing anything other than, well, numbers and text on them. Perhaps some basic graphics. Well, okay, you could do a fair bit with 80MB of space.

Nowadays, of course, you can fit 1TB of data into something that's a quarter the size (more or less) and we store our entire lives on there - photos, scanned documents, movies, music, finances, games, spreadsheets, slideshows, emails, contact lists . . . . Oh, and work stuff too. This exponential growth in data storage capabilities is known as Moore's law.

But in the future, we may see that external 1TB hard drive shrink down to the size of a quarter. Thanks to some pretty nifty techniques from nanotechnology, we can look forward to our entire lives being stored on something the size of your average USB thumb drive. Or even smaller. After all, this technology claims that it will provide 1TB of storage on the surface area of a quarter.

Pretty impressive, huh?

Just imagine the eDiscovery of the future. Instead of a litigation with a couple of terabytes being considered on the large side, we'll be looking at petabytes of data. One hopes that search technologies are vastly improved for these oversized haystacks . . .

Although I do have to wonder just how much data can be created by just one person, or just one company.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hope for Obsolete File Types

While reading the news on BBC's website about the Continental plane crash, which happened only a few miles from where I live, I found this article tucked away in the Technology section.

A number of researchers across Europe are involved in a project called Keeping Emulation Environments Portable (appropriately "KEEP" - there must be people out there that have a full-time career creating project names that result in catchy acronyms). The goal of the project is to create emulators that can read whatever obsolete file format you might have floating around.

It's a bigger problem than you might imagine: the number of unreadable documents in archives is beginning to mount up. Britain's National Archive estimates that it holds enough information to fill about 580,000 encyclopedias in formats that are no longer widely available; and research by the British Library estimates that the delay caused by accessing and preserving old digital files costs European businesses about £2.7bn a year.

It will be interesting to watch this project as it develops. Imagine being able to take your Wang word processor files and read them in true native format thanks to an emulator (after carefully preserving them and making evidentiary sound working copies, of course).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Could this finally mean the widespread adoption of technology at law firms?

Well, probably not. But this article at the NYTimes suggests that the demise of the billable hour is, if not imminent, at least more likely than it has been for a while.

I've long maintained that the billable hour promotes inefficiency and is not conducive to the long-term interests of law firms. It's nice to see that clients are actually demanding fee structures that promote efficiency (the flat fee) and reward performance (such as a flat fee plus a bonus for achieving a quick settlement).

Perhaps now, law firms will take the adoption of serious technology a little more to heart.

There is a "but" however. As I'm fond of telling my clients, it's not just the technology, it's also the workflow you build around it, and the people using it. (As our logo says - it's People Process Technology - in roughly that order.)

All the best whiz-bang technology in the world will not make you more efficient if you don't train your people on how to use it properly and haven't thought through the process that the technology is supposed to enhance.

So before any lawyers reading this rush off to buy the latest-and-greatest piece of technology, plan how it's going to fit into what your firm actually does, who will use it, and how much you're willing to spend on training.

Otherwise you'll end up with just more really cool-looking shelfware . . .