The myth of data permanence

Data Really Isn’t Permanent 

People often warn that once something appears on the Internet, it’s there forever. That may be truer in some instances more than it is for corporate or government data, though. In scientific communications, unless you collect data as it’s published, you may not be able to retrieve the information you want when you need it.

Data impermanence is caused by two major factors:

  1. Data is removed from the primary site. For an example, think back to the two most recent government administrations. Within days of both the Trump and Obama Inaugurations, data was removed from the White House website and some government agencies as information was updated. That happens in organizations, too. Discontinued products are removed from the website, and prior conference programs are replaced with future agendas. Publications revamp websites and some are discontinued, their websites removed completely.
  2. Data isn’t migrated to new storage devices. One corporate archivist, several years ago, predicted that our current age would rival that of the Dark Ages in terms of information loss. In organizations swimming in data, only the most-recently-used files are migrated to new storage technologies. That leaves huge chunks of data inaccessible by modern machines — the equivalent of retaining 5 ¼” diskettes in a thumb drive world.

For many, only current information is top-of-mind. After all, they reason, what matters are this month’s profiles, this year’s conferences and next year’s publication schedules. In many cases, they might be right. But this thinking often comes at the cost of sound strategies.

To really understand something, you need to understand how it got where it is today. That’s where historic information becomes valuable. For instance:

  • What were the conditions that made one product launch successful while a similar product failed? Knowing that can shape how you communicate prior to your own launches.
  • When selecting lead authors, why did a particular researcher choose a particular niche? Understanding how his or her research evolved can reveal strengths you may otherwise have overlooked.
  • Is this conference the best place to announce your news? For example, just because this particular conference featured regenerative medicine for the past five years doesn’t mean it will continue to be a good venue. Regenerative medicine as a topic at said conference may be in decline and indicate a waning of interest.

To make these insights, you need to understand trends. And to do that, you need to have years of credible data at your fingertips.

One approach is to collect data yourself as it is published, and then ensure your IT department migrates the database as hardware and software are refreshed. That approach is tedious, frequently overlooks important sources and requires IT resources you may not have.

The other approach is to work with a reliable third party well-versed in data capture. As a data capture specialist, this source should search the Internet daily, combing the world to retrieve information on the latest conferences, presentations, publications, topics and speakers. And, importantly, it should provide access to at least the past decade of information and the means to mine that data using search terms that are relevant to you.

Working with a data analytics specialist is clearly the best option. A Medical Affairs analytics specialist can provide the comprehensive data you need from credible sources, and a reliable way of accessing it, regardless of how technology changes.