Google Drive: How cloud storage and deep search saved my day -- again and again

Once more, cloud storage and good online search have helped solve a serious document retrieval problem. In this case study, David Gewirtz explains how Google Drive helped him get the job done.

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It was a bad day when these boxes arrived. But after scanning everything in, we were able to search all these documents in Google Drive.

David Gewirtz

I had a really big document retrieval challenge this month. Fortunately, Google Drive came to my rescue. Here's the full story.

One of the things that's become apparent to me as I continue my journey in #adulting is that it's occasionally necessary to produce moderately arcane family documents on demand. Whether related to the care of aging parents, owning property, or operating a business, there are times when documents you haven't seen in years (or possibly ever) must be quickly retrieved.

About a year and a half ago, I discussed how I was able to use Evernote to find my Dad's death certificate and will -- while traveling across the country and evacuating from Hurricane Irma. I had uploaded most of the documents related to managing my parents' illness to Evernote. Because Evernote OCRs everything, I was able to do a search, retrieve the document, and fax it, all from my phone while sitting at a Sonic drive-in picnic table in the middle of Kansas.

Fortunately, when this new document retrieval problem hit, I was in our new home in Oregon. I was no longer living out of a suitcase in dog-friendly motels, trying to outrun Mother Nature.

This time, the scope of the retrieval was substantially larger and the challenge harder. I had to produce about 50 documents related to an old property sale. Not all the documents were in ideal retrieval form. I needed to find receipts from contractors who had produced hand-written bills. I had to find records from vendors whose names I either couldn't recall or never knew originally because I hadn't personally dealt with them. I had to find government documents I had never seen.

Fortunately, almost everything I needed was stored on Google Drive.

A few years ago, as part of the caregiving my wife and I were doing for my parents, we received a shipment of bankers' boxes that contained all their completely unorganized records. The boxes filled our garage.

Emptying that newly filled garage was a pressing necessity. It was the workspace I normally used to film my videos for ZDNet, and I needed it back. We tackled the challenge by scanning everything we could and storing all in the resulting PDFs on our internal server.

To get through the scanning process as fast as possible, we scanned batches of documents and stuck them in PDFs labeled helpfully as batch-1, batch-2, etc. We figured that once we got rid of the paper invasion, we could deal with organizing the scans at our leisure. We never really had that leisure.

We did get them all scanned in, though. We stored them -- as-is and untouched -- on our server for a bunch of years.

Because of a decision to go paperless, we had also been scanning in our own working documents, from house paperwork to bills to other important (and less than important) documents. As much as possible, if it arrived as paper, it got scanned, uploaded to a share or directory. Then, we shredded or tossed the original dead tree refuse.

Sometime before the hurricane hit, I discovered Cloud Sync on the Synology server. As I've written about before, this is an elegant solution for sharing documents between a local server and a variety of cloud vendors. It worked so well that I decided to implement Cloud Sync to Google Drive for all of my documents. I created a Cloud Sync directory in Google Drive, and under that, created individual directories for each of my server's shares. I then set up Cloud Sync to keep the shares and cloud directories in sync.

Boy, was I glad I did that! I had to live off the cloud drive for about four months after the hurricane hit. I still had to work and conduct business -- and we had to find insurance paperwork and other documents that were either buried in moving boxes or might have been ruined when our roof got damaged.

Time went by, however, and we moved into our new house about a year ago. I set up the servers, ran the networks, and settled down into a slightly less eventful life.

Then, last month, the need for more unanticipated #adulting once again reared its ugly head. I had to come up with 50 or so documents that might have been stored anywhere. Some were probably in the share, holding all the contents of those bankers' boxes. Others could have been in any number of other shares.

While Synology has a good search feature, it doesn't hold a candle to Google's breath of search features in Google Drive. So, rather than searching through individual shares on my local server, I went into the Cloud Sync directory in Google Drive. This is the parent directory of all the mirrored shares.

Then, using Jedi-level Google-fu, I commenced my searching. It took me most of a day, but by the time I was done, I found all the documents I needed. Some were buried in big scanned packets, so I had to use Google's OCR to find the document, then PDF searching in Acrobat to dig through and find the exact pages I needed to extract.

Google, of course, isn't the only vendor to offer full-document OCR and text search. Dropbox and OneDrive also offer it, and although it's not as easy to upload documents, so does Evernote. I prefer Google because I get a lot of storage as part of my G Suite account, and I'm a big fan of the deep search capabilities Google offers.

Also G Suite: Everything you need to know before signing up for Google's office suite CNET

But no matter which cloud storage service you use, keep in mind the value of business continuity and document discovery. If you store your data -- and even if you store it without the best organizational structure - you'll have a good chance of retrieving what you need, when you need it.

Cloud storage and deep search have now come to my rescue on multiple occasions. It was well worth the effort to scan the documents and set up the storage service to make that possible. If you're not backing up your physical documents as well as your digital documents, I strongly recommend doing so.


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