Data Storage in the Digital Age
Data management is one of the most important skills to learn in mineral exploration. Not only does the data you collect today lead to the development of a project but the data collected yesterday, last year and decades ago, as well as in the future, also affect the success of a project. The money spent collecting the data should be reflected in the storage of the data and in the who, what, when ,where, why and how.
There are a few groups of people who will be looking at the data: geologists, directors, managers and investors. Your file structure must be simple enough to navigate through for people with little to no knowledge of geological terminology yet succinct to allow those with advanced knowledge to quickly navigate to their data of interest. For consistency, it is ideal to have the same person, or a specified data manager, to ensure the file structure and nomenclature does not vary too greatly every year.
In addition, who has access to the data is also very important. Be sure to keep your data private (i.e., no open links), review the list of people who have access with each season and ensure only those who need access are on the list. Limiting who can move, delete and add users to a select few, or only one account, is also very important in data security.
The types of data being stored should be accessible not only today but tomorrow. Certain file types are proprietary and can only be accessed by individual programs (e.g., Geosoft file formats typically used by geophysicists). While 'free reader' programs are available sometimes the file format in past years isn't compatible with the most recent 'readers' and past 'readers' aren't compatible with current operating systems. Request non-proprietary formats to ensure the data is available in the future (e.g., geotiffs, png, csv, txt, pdf and more).
The importance of the data should also be taken into account within the file structure. Try not to hide data behind a series of folder names. Using descriptive file names helps to limit the need for excess folders. To have the data accessible within three folders is ideal, but not always accomplished.
Uploading and backing-up data is an important task that should be conducted periodically depending on the work programs and report due dates. At the personal level, data should be backed-up daily (if not hourly, or sooner, if complex work is being conducted), within work groups, data should be backed-up monthly depending on the activity of the group and projects should be backed-up after every major project completion and at least yearly. When data is uploaded and backed-up is very dependent on the amount of data produced and how often a final product is produced.
Determining the location of your digital data is dependent on the security and accessibility you need. Some companies prefer zero-internet access and store their data within secure locations with no outside access since all their workers are stationed within the same complex. For companies that have workers stationed in many different locations, they may choose to have a server run by a data storage company through the internet. There are many online storage companies that offer different features at various prices. The main things to look for are security, access, and operability.
If you choose to store personal data, like resumes, on the internet be aware that there are special protocols to protect personal data online and not all online storage providers are compliant. In addition, some companies offer encrypted data storage, be aware whether it is back-end encryption (only encrypted in transit and stored unencrypted) or end-to-end encryption (encrypted in transit and stored as encrypted files).
The biggest question in data storage is why. Why do we need this data and why is it important? The answers to these two questions are important in the development of your digital data storage strategy.
Developing a data storage strategy will determine how the data will be stored. Will the files be zipped for quick downloads and compact storage (e.g., shapefiles) or stored how the original author intended? In addition, how the data is accessed (i.e., through desktops, phones,and/or tablets) is important in determining how the data should be stored.
Considering how much money is spent to collect the information in mineral exploration, data storage in the digital age is a very important component for ensuring the success of a project. Taking the time to look at the who, what, where, when, why and how is worth the effort and could save money in the future.
About the Author:
Diana has over 20 years of experience working in the mineral exploration industry searching for diamonds and metals in a range of roles: from heavy minerals lab technician to till sampler, rig geologist, project manager and business owner. Following a Master of Science degree in diamond indicator mineral geochemistry, Diana has conducted field work in BC, NWT, YT, ON (Canada) and in Greenland. She has also been involved, remotely through a BC-based office, on mineral exploration projects located in South America, Africa, Eurasia, and the Middle East. Diana finished a Ph.D. at UNBC in 2017 researching geochemical multivariate statistical analysis and interpretation. Currently, Diana is the owner of Takom Exploration Ltd., a small geological and environmental consulting firm focused on metal exploration in BC and the Yukon.