Magazine Article | November 12, 2012

Take Records Management To The Cloud

By Jay McCall, Business Solutions Magazine

This records management solutions provider is moving its customers’ mission-critical data to the hybrid cloud and finding new revenue opportunities in the process.

DataSafe holds the title, “The oldest family owned and operated records storage business in the United States.” Established in 1946 by Robert Reis, current President and CEO Tom Reis’ father, the company is now run with the help of Tom’s sons: Scott Reis, manager of client relations, and Rob Reis, vice president. Like many IT service providers that are finding success in a difficult economy, DataSafe thinks differently than its competitors. One thing it does differently than most companies is solicit feedback from its customers to learn more about their digital data and paper records challenges. It was this exercise that led the company to focus on the two extremes of its business — protecting records and destroying records — and to make three important decisions, which Rob Reis believes contributed to the company’s 8% revenue growth last year and will yield at least that same percentage of growth again this year.

Destroying Records Without Destroying Your Business
One of the primary ways most records management companies make money is by storing customers’ paper documents in a secured environment. According to Rob Reis, the typical going rate for a box is 30 cents per month. Some customers may use DataSafe’s services to store a couple dozen boxes, while others may archive thousands of boxes. The price goes up as customers require special services, such as a controlled temperature and/or humidity environment, or if they require special security measures that can boost the cost per month to as high as $15 per box. For most records management companies, the entire focus is on growing their storage centers. One thing DataSafe does that’s different, and has even caused it to incur verbal abuse from its competitors, is that it pays attention to which of its clients’ documents are approaching the end of life (e.g. tax records that are more than seven years old), and it makes the customer aware when certain records should be destroyed. I know what you’re probably thinking: “And then it charges them an exorbitant fee to destroy the records.” Good thinking, but wrong. The IT service provider actually runs big sales during the summer months, and this past season alone it helped its customers destroy tens of thousands of boxes. “In the short term, it may cause a dip in our monthly recurring revenue, but it’s what’s best for our customers,” says Reis. DataSafe even invested in two mobile shredder vehicles within the past couple of years, so that customers who need to destroy sensitive records residing at their facilities can have extra peace of mind and actually watch the documents being destroyed. “The trucks are outfitted with lockable bins, located on the side of the truck box, which enable a person to tip a box into the truck,” says Reis. “On the other side of the bin is a hopper that feeds the documents into a large shredder, all of which is captured by CCTV video surveillance cameras located in the truck box, enabling the client to view the entire process from the side of the truck via a video monitor if they wish.”

Offering mobile shredding and records destruction services gives DataSafe an opportunity to have a touch point with its customers and to open the door to discuss additional goals and challenges a client may have with its records. The feedback from these conversations is what led to another new service the company started offering in the past 18 months: hybrid storage.

Put Your Customers’ Mission-Critical Data In The Cloud
In addition to managing paper records, DataSafe has also been in the data management business for several years. The IT service provider hasn’t been a data storage reseller, per se, but it has provided value-added services to its customers’ tape backup libraries, such as storing system backups at its data centers. Within the past couple of years, DataSafe has noticed a trend where some of its customers were starting to incorporate disk-to-disk (D2D) backup solutions in their practices and others were trying to take advantage of all the hype they had been hearing about cloud computing. “As we gathered feedback, we discovered both solutions were incomplete,” recalls Reis. “Cloud storage is good at meeting customers’ RPOs [recovery point objectives], but it’s very poor at meeting their RTOs [recovery time objectives]. On-premise D2D solutions have high RTOs, but they’re inadequate at protecting customers in the event of a disaster or an on-premise data center outage.”

Just to clarify, a high RPO means that the user can pinpoint a specific revision of a specific file, created at a specific date and time, and access that file after it was deleted from the network. RTO, on the other hand, refers to how quickly a company that has experienced a network failure needs to be back up and running before it suffers unacceptable financial losses. After researching several solutions on the market, DataSafe selected Axcient’s hybrid backup and business continuity solution (see sidebar for more details about Axcient). “The hybrid solution creates an on-premise backup that takes ‘snapshots’ of the customers’ data as frequently as every 30 minutes,” says Reis. “At the same time, it uploads any changes in the customers’ data to the cloud. This approach to data backups meets customers’ RPO and RTO requirements.”

Reis points out that he doesn’t recommend that his customers ditch their tape libraries and move everything to the D2D solution — only mission-critical data that customers can’t be without for more than two hours. “Some data is simply archived and never accessed until it reaches its end of life, according to an industry mandate,” says Reis. “This kind of information is still stored on cheaper media such as tape.” Since becoming a hybrid storage reseller, DataSafe now has 10% of its customers using it. And, based on the trend it’s seeing with more and more of customers looking for tape alternatives, Reis expects this number to double within the next two years.

Take Your Customers’ Computing To The Cloud, Too
While the cloud is proving to be a viable option for DataSafe’s customers’ disaster recovery needs, Reis sees additional opportunities as well. At press time, Reis shared with me that his company is close to signing a deal with a cloud provider that offers infrastructure services, which will enable DataSafe to help push its clients’ applications, such as accounts payable, to the cloud as well. “We’ve been in the document management business for years,” says Reis. “Many clients have paid us to scan their documents and present them with a DVD containing all their images. But, if you’re not cataloguing and managing that data as well as creating access levels, you’re only halfway there.” Reis believes pushing these services to a cloud environment that offers infrastructure as a service, DataSafe will be able to provide its customers with improved functionality of their digital images, including workflow functionality. “They’ll no longer have to rely on someone to forward an email or to print a document and place it on someone’s desk,” says Reis. “As soon as one person completes their part of the workflow process and presses the ‘Complete’ button, it will automatically be routed to the next person in the workflow process with all the appropriate alerting and messaging built in.”

It’s too early on to predict how successful DataSafe’s next step into the cloud is going to be for the company. But, considering that its simple formula of asking customers for feedback and taking actions with the customers’ best interests in mind, there’s no reason to believe that DataSafe won’t continue bucking the records management trends to the disbelief of its competitors.