Will ‘Dark Data’ be the Downfall of Your Business?
For businesses operating in the 21st century, data accumulation can be both a core activity intrinsically linked with corporate strategy, and a peripheral activity, wherein data is amassed as a by-product of day-to-day business processes. This is great news, because more data is always a good thing… isn’t it?
Well, not necessarily. Businesses are increasingly accumulating and storing data at a faster rate than they can reasonably analyse and make use of it. This is one of several factors that has brought about the concept of “dark data”. If you haven’t come across the term, it’s worth looking into – because dark data represents a very real risk to your business.
What is Dark Data?
Dark data is, broadly, any data that a company holds that is not utilised to inform business decision-making. IT advisory company Gartner specifically defines dark data as “information assets organisations collect, process and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes (for example, analytics, business relationships and direct monetising).”
In practical terms, dark data can take many forms. It could include internal documentation, communication and employee files, as well as customer information, and even raw survey data that isn’t subsequently analysed and leveraged. Information that is relevant and useable when it is collected can also become “dark” if it isn’t utilised in a timely manner.
Some of this data may be being retained for reasons of regulatory compliance, but the sheer scale of the issue is nonetheless surprising. The Veritas Databerg Report 2015 for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) suggests that data storage environments comprise 54% dark data and 32% redundant, obsolete and trivial (ROT) data, while only 14% of data stored is business-critical.
The Business Risks Associated with Dark Data
So how exactly does this unused data constitute a business risk? There are several issues at play here:
- Failing to utilise the data to which your company has access can represent considerable lost opportunity in terms of accessing business insights. What’s more, if you are collecting and storing customer data (for example) but failing to analyse or utilise it, it’s a pretty safe bet that one or more of your competitors is making use of the same type of data. This can only result in your business losing competitive advantage.
- We live in an age where secure data storage is relatively inexpensive… but it’s not free. If 54% of your total data storage is dark – and 32% is ROT – that’s a lot of money down the drain. Veritas estimates that, across the EMEA region, dark and ROT data will account for up to $891 billion in avoidable data storage and management costs by 2020.
- Amassing large volumes of unused data – particularly in the case of distributed and duplicated content – can leave your business at greater risk of a security breach. Compromised data might include proprietary or sensitive business information or, perhaps worse, customer data. Such breaches could result in serious regulatory, legal and reputational repercussions, not to mention financial consequences in the payment of fines, compensation or damages.
How to Mitigate the Risks
If your business has an issue with dark data – and the chances are it does, even if you don’t realise it – then the first step in addressing the problem should be the implementation of an enterprise information management (EIM) infrastructure with a robust document management system (DMS). An effective EIM/DMS setup will make it easier to sort, categorise and tag your dark data, and allow you to make an informed decision about what data can be deleted or archived, and what content can be analysed and utilised to inform future business decisions.