For most of the past 10 years I was a computer operations manager for the R&D department at an up-and-coming pharmaceutical company. Initially it was a small operation. But as time passed, we were gobbled up by bigger and bigger fish. Finally, last year, we were swallowed by a Great White Shark. My site was the most productive one in the entire company, but it was poorly located and expensive to expand or upgrade. The Shark decided to close it.
The first staffers to go were the scientists; they were highly paid, so firing them would produce the biggest financial bump. More than 150 scientists were given less than two weeks to prepare their projects for passing along to other divisions. I was asked to hang around for two more weeks to help turn out the lights.
As those two weeks drew to an end, my VP called me in. He'd pointed out to his superiors that a huge amount of data had been produced during various research projects -- and that this data hadn't been documented, backed up, or organized in any way. He suggested bringing back a few of the scientists, but no one wanted to spend the money to do it.
Still, the Shark knew that the FDA is quite interested in documentation and frowns on companies whose early data has "disappeared," so it hired (what else?) a consulting company. Sadly, the consultants were much better at moving equipment than data. These guys had never seen an echocardiogram administered, let alone analyzed the 40GB of data that one produced. I won't even tell you about the equally humongous data sets produced in chemistry, biology, or genetics labs. The scientists who understood what that data meant were already signed on with other companies.
As the last experienced IT person standing, I did have some ideas about how to move and organize the data, but I had no idea what data was important and what was garbage. The scientists who had collected the information in the first place could have probably shaved it down by 90 percent, especially as they had an intimate knowledge of FDA regulations and project requirements. I couldn't always tell the consultants what blocks of data went together or even which projects they came from. I was computer operations manager, not chief biologist!
Nonetheless, my "temporary" assignment was extended again and again. By now the consultants had warned the Shark that critical data would be lost without me. My problem was that a) they weren't paying me that well, and b) I had plans to start my own business with a partner, and she was in limbo until I could finish. Finally I said, "Sorry, guys," and walked. But the site-closure project continued for another two years! I heard that after 18 months the consultants quit backing up the data altogether and just shipped the computers to their new homes, hoping that the scientists there would be able to figure out the data left on their disk arrays.
By now I have exercised all my stock options in the Shark and have invested the cash in the companies where my scientists ended up. If the FDA ever audits any of the projects we initiated, I imagine it will find that hundreds of terabytes of critical data were lost or ended up at the wrong lab.
Lesson learned? Knowledge workers are expensive for a reason.