Is Digital Hoarding Hurting Your Business?


digital hoarding

Hoarding shows are popular these days. The images are consistent: Boxes stacked to the ceilings. Piles of newspapers dating back to the Nixon era. Feral cats skittering behind furniture. Empty cans of cat food, beans and soup scattered everywhere. Most people know a hoarder. Maybe it’s an aunt. Maybe it’s the neighbor with a sofa on the front porch and motorcycle parts strewn across the lawn. Or, maybe it’s you. Have you taken a look at your email inbox lately?

What Is Digital Hoarding?
Digital hoarding also known as e-hoarding is excessive acquisition and reluctance to delete electronic material no longer valuable to the user. The behavior includes the mass storage of digital artifacts and retaining unnecessary or irrelevant electronic data. As with physical space in which excess items are described as clutter or junk, excess digital media is often referred to as “digital clutter.” Digital hoarding occurs in any electronic space where information is stored. In a business setting the areas where digital clutter may exist are email inboxes, electronic documents and file folders, excessive desktop icons, old software/computer programs/apps no longer being used, and Internet bookmarks no longer being referenced. Hoarding of electronic information is a common problem that reduces employee productivity, raises information technology operational expense and heightens the risks and costs of regulatory action and litigation. We’re probably all guilty of holding onto some information we really don’t need and will never use again. Our collective proclivity for accumulating vast quantities of digital information has resulted in these following statistics reported by Contoural Inc.:
• The size of the digital universe in 2012 was estimated at 2.7 zettabytes (2.7 trillion gigabytes), and is forecast to be 40 zettabytes by 2020 – a 50-fold growth since 2010 (source: IDC).
• Businesses sent and received 89 billion emails per day in 2012 which should grow to over 146 billion by year-end 2016 (source: Radicati Group).
• Unstructured data (files, documents, information generated by applications) is growing at up to the rate of 80 percent (source: Gartner).
The widespread availability of content on the Internet makes it easier for users to obtain digital information and since it does not take up physical space it is less likely to be perceived as clutter. Digital hoarding stems from a variety of individual habits coupled with corporate conditions and trends. We can all relate to one or more of the following reasons for holding on to digital content: fear losing something important, no methodology for determining which content is worth keeping, lack of time to evaluate and delete unnecessary records, and inexpensive data storage options that reduce the need to save data selectively.

Why Is Digital Hoarding A Problem For Businesses?
Findability—The more you save, the more you will have to sift through. A recent survey by the technology market research firm Radicati Group reported that “the typical corporate email user sends and receives about 105 email messages per day.” That is a lot of email to process, categorize or store. Heavy users of email see upwards of 200 to 300 messages per day. Add documents, spreadsheets and presentations, and this number balloons. Sorting through old messages and rummaging through our boxes strips hours from each day. If you’re a well-paid knowledge worker, the productivity lost while purging old files may well cost your organization more than the bloated storage costs. That is, until it comes time to find something. Powerful search engines like Google create the illusion that information is always at our fingertips. The reality is that even for large organizations with enterprise search capabilities, findability falls way short in terms of efficiency. For businesses which rely solely on desktop and email search for digital content retrieval, the process causes even more lost productivity.
Data Security—Digital content is vulnerable to anonymous attacks from thousands of miles away. Data can be stolen, altered, misused, and abused by foreign governments and cyber criminals alike, as well as by negligent or disgruntled employees and bored teenagers. Securing email and desktop documents from a data breach may not be considered as a serious matter compared with protecting a system or application from data destruction or theft. Nonetheless it is one component of an organization’s digital presence, which must be guarded in totality.
Litigation Discovery—The problem of saving too much information can come back and bite an organization during the discovery phase of a lawsuit. According to Jeff Fehrman, vice president of forensics and consulting at Integreon, a provider of legal and research solutions, e-hoarding becomes an even more serious problem when your organization faces a lawsuit. “During the discovery phase, if you don’t have your data properly classified and legal teams are handling a bunch of information that is not relevant to the case, you can spend millions on e-discovery,” he says.
Judy Selby and James A. Sherer of the law firm BakerHostetler explain that stakeholders should understand that all that stored data might become discoverable in litigation, and a store-everything approach is no defense. Even if data isn’t subject to production in a given lawsuit, it still might be subjected to a litigation hold, collected and subsequently reviewed by counsel—at a significant per-hour cost—even if it is later determined that it need not be produced. In addition, the costs, administrative burden, functionality disruptions, and inefficiencies associated with subjecting data to legal holds can be quite substantial.
Storage and Backup—Although the hard cost of data storage has trended downward over the past few years, the cost is still real and adds up, especially when carried out ad infinitum. While the cost of storing data has dropped, ancillary costs haven’t, including costs for adding space in data centers and paying for escalating HVAC bills. As data grows, the chore of backing up critical data becomes more costly and complex.

Can The Problem Be Corrected?
How does the average professional know what will not prove to be valuable information months and years later? And should the decision as to what should be retained be left to individual employees? Large organizations tend to rely on enterprise systems and information governance policies where information is under management’s control and digital hoarding is not allowed. Unfortunately, the benefits of these content management tools are often undermined when employees, who are afraid of losing their information, save it elsewhere without security and lawsuit discovery protections.
For organizations, large and small, how do we get employees to understand that hanging on to useless content makes about as much sense as saving empty cereal boxes and hundreds of old plastic bags? Ingrained habits can be difficult to change. Businesses which are successful at managing digital content are those with an organizational culture which creates, communicates and enforces policies and procedures for content retention and deletion, from the C-suite down. The first step in changing rooted practices may be to ask employees to consider this question each time they save digital content—“Would you save it if it were paper?”

C3 Advisors, LLC
October 15, 2014

C3 Advisors converges the three essential business elements—Process, People and Technology—to help businesses thrive, not just survive, by improving profitability and reducing risk. Our services help our clients improve process optimization, people integration and technology maximization.
Process Optimization focuses on establishing formalized operational functions that facilitate increased productivity, mitigate risk, and provide the foundation for optimal profitability.
People Integration addresses staffing and workforce issues that are critical to the success of continually cost efficient, low risk and productive processes.
Technology Maximization ensures the ROI on a technology investment is fully realized through complete use of systems functionality and business intelligence.

We have specific expertise in post-acute healthcare, technology and service companies. Please visit our website at and for direct information about how C3 Advisors, LLC can assist your business, please call us at (630) 510-3181 or email us at
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One Response to “Is Digital Hoarding Hurting Your Business?”

  1. Cherelyn Riesmeyer Says:

    Thanks! I never thought about this before! Cherelyn

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