The Growth of Digital Information

Published in TDAN.com April 2001

The growth of digital information is phenomenal. Whatever watermark you use to measure the advance, this fact is clear: Digital documents dominate the swelling tide of information – a tsunami of
e-information that floods nearly every aspect of doing business and has begun to saturate the shores of society. Digital information has become so commonplace that it is hard to imagine getting
along without it. A multiplicity of e-mails, voice mails and computer files fuel the engines of corporate enterprise, and over half the households in America have at least one family member who
surfs the Web.

While the growth of digital information is increasing, what has not increased is the awareness of the risks. Where is all of your digital information located? What does your digital information say
about you or your company? Would you be comfortable sharing all of your digital content in a court of law – similar to a retroactive wiretap on your digital communications? Many people aim to ride
the information wave to prosperity, but less are sufficiently attentive to the potential liabilities lurking in the depths of digital information.

Risks notwithstanding, to defy the flood of digital information is foolish. We are experiencing a digital information revolution which touches our business lives as well as our personal lives in
some rather significant and sometimes surprising ways.

The Digital Wave Becomes a Flood

The world is experiencing exponential growth of digital information. More information has been produced in the last thirty years than in the previous five thousand – the entire history of
civilization.(1) More astonishing are predictions that this existing information base will double in the next three to five years.(2)

This information growth is fueled by accelerating adoption of digital technology. Consider the following statistics:

  • Investment in information technology now accounts for over one-half of the United States’ gross investment in equipment.(3)
  • Each year, American businesses spend more than $100 billion on computer hardware alone.(4)
  • The use of digital information is growing at 96% per year.(5)
  • 80% of corporate information is in digital form .(6)

Stacks of statistics from many sources share a common theme: growth rates for digital information are undeniable and extremely high.

Clearly, the “paperless office” is far from reality, but digital information has quickly conquered the previously paper-centric world of business. In 1995, over 90% of documents were in paper
form. During the last few years, however, there has been a steady decline in the number of paper-only documents. By 2005, analysts predict that only 30% of documents will remain on
paper.(7)

Whether or not documents see the light of day on paper, the trend is clear: Corporate information is primarily digital in origin. Web pages, e-mail and electronic commerce lead the way, but even
the behemoths of the basement – printing presses and production printers – receive information digitally. Nearly all information in today’s business world is manipulated, modified, manufactured
and moved in digital form.

E-mail

The growth of digital information is most clearly evident in the ever-expanding use of e-mail. Over 40% of Americans currently use e-mail – sending and receiving approximately 2.2 billion messages
each day, compared with just 293 million pieces of first class mail.(8) In the corporate world, it is hard to imagine doing business without e-mail.
Microsoft, for example, processes more than 3 million e-mail messages a day.(9) The average office worker sends and receives nearly 200 e-mail messages each
day, and analysts estimate that 82 million workers rely on e-mail as an essential part of their job.(10)

As a result, the number of e-mail addresses (also known as mailboxes) has grown steadily in the United States – from 150 million in 1998 to over 200 million currently. Analysts predict that well
over 300 million mailboxes will exist in America by 2005.(11)

The increase in e-mail traffic is even more rapid around the globe. Currently, over 225 million people worldwide can send and receive e-mail.(12) Analysts
predict that the number and size of e-mail messages will increase at an average annual growth rate of more than 35% over the next few years.(13) As a
result, predictions are that an astounding 750 million e-mail boxes will exist worldwide by 2005.(14)

Tremendous growth in e-mail is found at the White House. When President Clinton leaves office, his legacy will include 40 million e-mail messages which, by law, must go to the National Archives and
Records Administration (NARA) who have the task of storing and preserving those messages essentially forever.(15)

 



The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web typifies the Information Age. This ocean of information contains 2.3 billion digital documents and analysts predict that the number of documents on the Web will grow eight-fold
in 2000 alone – and 100 times in the next decade.(16) Approximately 275 million people access the World Wide Web, and that figure is expected to reach one
billion by 2005.(17) Clearly, in the Information Age, using the Web is no longer a competitive advantage, it is a competitive necessity. As a result,
companies are aggressively migrating existing business processes to the Web and, almost without exception, feel that the Web will help them sell more products, reach more customers and share
information more easily and dynamically.(18)

 



E-Commerce

Electronic commerce accounts for much of the growth of the Web. Business is good; approximately 72% of online Americans have already purchased products and services over the Web. (19) As a result, most corporations are jumping on the virtual bandwagon. In a recent study that surveyed 600 information technology and business managers, over 90% of
the managers had an e-commerce initiative in place. This is an increase of about 40% in one year, from 1998 to 1999, and the upward inclination is dramatic over the last decade.(20) Most organizations hope to duplicate the success of Amazon.com – the paragon of online retail – who reported first quarter sales in 1999 of $293.6 million. This is
more than three times the company’s revenue for the prior year. Amazon accounts grew by more than 2.2 million in 1999, to approximately 8.4 million customers.(21) Ultimately, more than $18 billion worth of merchandise was sold via e-commerce in the U.S. in 1999, a figure that is expected to jump to nearly $53 billion in
2003.(22)

Online Trading

Online trading is another indicator of the tremendous growth and acceptance of digital information in both business and society. Only three years ago, online investment brokers were practically
non-existent. Today, there are over 150 online brokers and over 11 million online accounts. Online trading accounts for approximately a half-million stock trades per day.(23) The percentage of U.S. investors trading online is now 12.5%, and is expected to climb to 29.2% by 2002.(24)

 



Mobile Computing

Another area that feeds the flood of digital information is mobile computing – personal digital assistants (PDA), mobile phones and other portable wireless computing devices. The days of the “Dick
Tracy watch” are upon us. Mobile computing devices not only call home; they send e-mail, receive text messages and access the World Wide Web. One popular PDA, the Palm, sold 5.5 million in 1999
alone, and sales are expected to more than double by 2001.(25) All of these Palm devices will have Internet access built-in.

While PDAs are in vogue with technophiles, mobile phones are a mainstay of the average businessman or woman. Analysts estimate that 400 million mobile phones will be sold worldwide in 2000, growing
to over 560 million by 2004.(26) By that time, it will be difficult to purchase a mobile phone that does not also access the Web and perform other computing
and personal functions that we associate with PDAs today.

 



By the end of 2002, the number of worldwide mobile computing users with access to the Internet could exceed the number of wired users. Estimates are that by mid 2001, all new mobile computing
devices will be Web-enabled, and by 2003, users with mobile Internet access will account for 60% of the Internet users in the U.S.(27)

Web-Based Telephony

Eventually, convergence of digital mobile computing devices and the World Wide Web will make us forget that phones ever existed apart from the Internet. For instance, Web-based telephony (Web talk)
is exploding. More and more Web users want to talk online. After all, talk is cheap when it’s on the Web – it’s free. Long distance telephone traffic is on the rise and many of the cheapest
minutes can be had over the Web. Businesses seek work-related messaging and conferencing capabilities, but most Web talkers simply place private calls, like they do from wired and mobile phones
now.

Web talk rose from virtually nothing in 1998 to 8,600 million minutes of conversation in 1999. In 2000, experts expect 80,200 million minutes to be logged, rising to 320,600 million minutes in
2001. Most of these minutes are free of charge. As a result, Web talkers call more often and talk for longer periods. The average user spent about 20 minutes per week conversing over the Web last
year. Analysts predict minutes will climb steadily to 150 minutes per week in 2004.(28)

Physicians and Pharmacists

Health care is one area of our economy that indicates digital information has reached the shores of society-at-large. While physicians and care providers are up-to-date on medical technology, they
are generally not regarded as early-adopters of computer technology. Paper charts and prescription slips continue to dominate workflow in many medical practices. But as digital information becomes
pervasive in the business world, the resistance to digital information systems is beginning to ease – starting with e-mail. According to a recent survey conducted by the University of Michigan, 70%
of patients want to communicate with their physicians via e-mail. 83% of physicians feel that e-mail is a good means for answering patients’ non-urgent medical questions.(29)

The digital trend touches the local pharmacy as well. The National Academy of Sciences reports that 40% of prescriptions require a clarifying phone conversation between a pharmacist and a doctor.
The reason for this is the proverbial chicken-scratch handwriting of doctors. Reports indicate that about 7,000 patients die each year because of medication errors that are a result of
misunderstood prescriptions. Using PDAs, doctors can now access their patient’s prescription and diagnosis using the Web. PDAs can display drug and dosage options for the particular diagnosis,
specify which drugs are approved by the patient’s insurance company, and alert the physician if the prescribed drug will adversely interact with other medicine the patient is taking. Doctors may
then e-mail the prescription to the appropriate pharmacy.(30)

The fact that physicians and pharmacists are beginning to use e-mail, the Web and other digital information technology indicates a significant change in our society. The digital information wave
has reached the mainstream and is no longer solely within purview of early-adopting techies.

 



Digital Photography

Photographers have also caught the digital wave. As a result, digital photography is now a mainstay of graphic artists and advertising agencies. Magazine editors and layout artists require photos
in a digital format so that images can easily be retouched, modified and manipulated. Thousands of stock photos and advertising graphics are available for purchase on the Web. Many photojournalists
carry a digital camera along with their trusty Nikon. This was not the case only a few years ago. As a result, professional and amateur photographers have made the switch to digital formats.

The transition to digital photography represents a benchmark in consumer behavior that is as noteworthy as the advent of the first Kodak. More and more, people store, develop, print and share
digital photographs via the Internet. For instance, America Online recently unveiled a new service called “You’ve Got Pictures” to its 16 million subscribers. AOL predicts that amateur
photographers will snap 29 million digital pictures each year. PhotoWorks (formerly Seattle Film Works) boasts an archive of over 75 million digital photographs.(31)

Digital Printing

Along with photographers and graphic artists, printers have adopted digital technology. A 1999 study commissioned by Xplor International, (32) the leading
printing industry association, indicates that digital technology has infiltrated the formerly ink and paper intensive world of corporate printing. The study presents the following statistics:

  • 77% of member companies archive files in digital form.
  • 74% of companies distribute documents in digital form for printing elsewhere.
  • 68% of companies use digital documents as an alternative to printing – up from 47% in 1995.
  • 40% of companies use automated electronic forms that never get printed on paper (up from 27% in 1997), and another 16% currently have a pilot program in place.

Digital Archiving and Storage

Digital information needs to be stored. As a result, the digital archiving business is booming. Analysts predict demand for digital storage will grow by more than 1,800% between 1998 and 2003.
Spending on managed storage services, a mere $11 million in 1999, is anticipated to grow to $140 million in 2000 and to $4.8 billion by 2003.(33)
Predictions and assumptions aside, one company can attest to the growth in digital archiving in hard dollars and cents. Revenues at EMC, the leading provider of digital storage, grew 24 percent in
1999, to $6.72 billion. Their net income grew 50%, to $1.18 billion.(34) Growing volumes of e-mail, which in many cases must be archived, are the No. 1
storage hog.

Cookies

One area of digital information that is often unrecognized or overlooked are “Cookies” – invasive little bits of data concocted by Web site owners to record their visitors’ activities. These
unique identifiers are sent to users’ browsers, which squirrel them on a PC hard drive, until a subsequent visit when the Web site pulls them from the browser’s stash. Cookies are anonymous, but
they record users’ activities and can serve as database keys. Cookies are required for personalized Web services and e-commerce (like Amazon, Home Grocer or MSN) in order for Web sites to present
pages that accommodate visitors’ expressed and implied preferences. But cautious Web users are concerned about privacy and how the data that Web sites collect about them may be used.

While awareness is increasing, most Web users are unaware that cookies even exist on their PC, and few know exactly what they are used for. Some Web users strongly resent attempts to collate their
personal information with their online activities. The rise of Web-based e-mail services, discussion groups, and other online communities, presents significant opportunities for associating
personal information with cookie data.(35)

Conclusion

There is little to stop the flood of digital information. Indeed, we have come to rely on high-tech systems to communicate. The digital age is no longer confined exclusively to business; the
digital revolution is a societal revolution that will have increasing influence on both our business and private lives.

The notion that technology makes our lives easier contradicts the fact that technology has added a significant level of complexity to information management. Today’s documents are not just on
paper. Digital information takes size, shape and residence in any number of forms, each with its own requirements and constraints. As a result, even the most devoted and intelligent technophiles
struggle with understanding, managing and maneuvering digital information.

The fact that increasing amounts of digital information is created in varying types and from diverse people will present interesting challenges in the areas of litigation, confidentiality,
proprietary information and storage. These factors will become increasingly critical as the growth of digital information increases. The risk of having information stored throughout an
organization, but not knowing exactly where all of that information is located, what it says, and the liabilities associated with the content are significant. The key to surviving the digital flood
lies in the ability to locate, manage and understand the content of your digital information.

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References:

1. Kevin Craine, Designing a Document Strategy, (MC2 Publishing, 2000).
2. Xplor International and Delphi Consulting Group, 1998.
3. P.A. David, “Computer and Dynamo: Discussion Paper #172,” Stanford Center for Economic Policy Research, Stanford University, 1991.
4. M. Khosrow-Pour, professor of information systems, Pennsylvania State University, in correspondence sent to the author June 12, 1999.
5. International Data Corporation, 1996.
6. Gartner Group, 1998. Kevin Craine, Designing a Document Strategy.
7. Keith Davidson, president of Xplor International. From his keynote address at the Xplor International Document Strategies Conference, February 1998.
8. U.S. News & World Report, March 22, 1999.
9. Windows Magazine, May 1999.
10. Business Week, July 20, 1998.
11. International Data Corporation, July 1999.
12. Newsweek, September 20, 1999.
13. Inside Gartner Group, December 8, 1999.
14. International Data Corporation, July 1999.
15. ComputerWorld, September 6, 1999
16. Anshoo Gupta, president of Xerox production systems group, from his keynote presentation at the Xplor International Global Conference, 1999.
17. Fortune, May 2000.
18. Xplor International Technology Directions Survey, 1999.
19. Internet Week, December 6, 1999.
20. Delphi Consulting Group. Document Processing Technology, April 2000.
21. Information Week, May 3, 1999.
22. Information Week, August 16, 1999.
23. Newsweek, November 11, 1999.
24. Fortune, October 1999.
25. International Data Corporation. ComputerWorld, November 1999.
26. The Yankee Group. Interactive Week, February 28, 2000.
27. International Data Corporation. IT Forecaster, March 21, 2000.
28. International Data Corporation. IT Forecaster. June 27, 2000.
29. Family Practice Management, December 1999.
30. InternetWeek, March 27, 2000.
31. Fortune. March 2000.
32. Xplor International Technology Directions Survey, 1999.
33. International Data Corporation. InternetWeek, April 24, 2000.
34. EMC. www.emc.com
35. International Data Corporation. IT Forecaster, May 9, 2000.

© 2000 Kevin Craine
All rights reserved

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About Kevin Craine

The author, Kevin Craine, EDPP is Supervisor of the Output Management, Electronic Publishing and Corporate Forms departments for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon. Kevin can be reached at 503/225-5213. Visit his web site at: http://members.aol.com/kccrain/craine.html.

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