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February 8, 2023

Accountants Are Becoming Hoarders

Does your external hard drive or cloud storage easily transform into the digital equivalent to a garage full of junk? Don’t be ashamed, I’m guilty of it too. And companies know it’s an issue, tempting you with more space for less than a cup of coffee every month. It’s hard to refuse.

Remember those disposable cameras? You would be careful about how many photos you took because you only had a limited number. Now, every selfie I take goes into the  abyss. Frankly, I don’t have time to go in and organize my archive from the early 2000s to now. Really, I wish there was a digital equivalent to those guys from Garage Gold who would come and organize it for me. Actually, maybe not. I’m not quite sure what they might find that they could make a buck off of. We’ll just scratch that…

Nevertheless, it brings up a good point. Moore’s Law of increasing storage means digital clutter is a growing problem. Unlimited storage capacity isn’t always a good thing. I know from a professional perspective, document retention is a boring topic. We get it. Seven years… blah, blah. But, information governance is more than just CYA and is worth a deeper look. 

Cue the recycle bin

Record management preaches that you should only keep documentation that is useful for future business activity or required to be retained by the PCAOB audit standards or other governing standard. According to AICPA recordkeeping guidance for small businesses:

it may be tempting to keep everything. But over time the cost and liability of storing old documents — either in paper copies or electronically — can become significant. Rather than waiting until you run out of room or are frustrated by storage bills, you should implement a document retention policy.

That’s all fine and, well… I expect that most people just keep everything anyway. But, it’s not always a good thing.

The lousy liability of big data

Saving everything can cause a professional liability headache. Inconsistent information is a problem and can burn you.

As quoted in Computer Weekly, a 2013 AIIM study on information governance found 31% of senior managers “admitted their inferior electronic records keeping is causing problems with regulators and auditors, while 14% said they were incurring fines or bad publicity due to bad handling of information.” Albeit a slightly dated study, it’s still an issue.

If 31% of companies were having issues — I highly doubt that accountants and auditors have this on lockdown either. While we don’t talk about it much (and I couldn’t track down a study or some solid research), I have a hunch…

Information governance headaches

As big data takes hold, hoarding raw, unstructured data is more and more encouraged. However, it can be a burden — with an inherent cost — not living up to its decision-making potential. For example, the Huffington Post blogger, Nick Patience argues that:

While these data explosion headlines have largely become numbing, the fact is that more information is not inherently better (particularly if it doesn’t have value, per above)…

and goes on to say

Even assuming a company is willing to roll the dice on expanding eDiscovery costs, botched regulatory compliance and periodic privacy breaches (perhaps under the belief that those elements don’t grow the business), workers must be able to find the right information at the right time to do their jobs. So yes, storage is relatively cheap, but the ramifications of a “store everything forever” can be quite expensive.

I know I probably should donate my computer circa 2006 — but who knows if I might need something on it, right? I am definitely guilty of the “store everything forever” syndrome.

Do you really do anything with your archive of files? Be honest. You probably don’t even know what is collecting digital cobwebs. Unless you get a subpoena, that is… then it’s file surfing time.

Image: iStockphoto

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