Steer clear of the databerg: why data hoarding could be a compliance risk and a financial disaster

Managing the dark and useless data lurking within the vast archives of European businesses should be a the top of every CEO’s resolutions for 2016

Feature image

Digital transformation is the holy grail for big business today. Technology giants and rapid growth start-ups, fuelled by digital technology, are disrupting everything from taxis to takeaways. Incumbent market leaders in every sector are rightly looking over their shoulders and asking their technology functions to help them replicate the speed with which the new breed are able to innovate, pivot and scale. This is placing an enormous amount of pressure on IT leaders, whose budgets have remained static at best. In most cases, CIOs are doing a good job to simply keep the lights on.

At the heart of digital transformation is the great data revolution. Clever manipulation of the right data is the key to unlocking new opportunities and new ways of working. But no one could have predicted the sheer scale of the explosion in data. IDC predicts that the digital universe will reach an inconceivable 44 zettabytes by 2020 – ten times that in existence today – as more and more devices and people become connected.

Allocating IT budgets and building strategies based on a belief that data can be allowed to grow uncontrollably is a strategic error

Companies, in response, are hoarding data in the hope that one day they’ll get round to mining it for something useful. Employees, meanwhile, are dumping anything from music and books to Christmas wishlists on the same servers. One well-meaning HR department in a major business recently ran a ‘best holiday snap’ competition, crippling the data server in the process as thousands of large image files were dropped onto a shared drive from around the world.

Sold on the myth that storage is cheap, companies are adding bolt-on cloud capacity with little thought given to the costs involved in managing these vast acres of information. The result is what Veritas recently identified in a ground-breaking report as the ‘databerg’ – a great, lumbering mass comprised of 54 percent unidentified dark data and 32 percent redundant, obsolete or trivial (ROT) data lurking beneath the water, with barely 17 percent identified, business-critical data visible above the waves.

We estimate that, left unchecked, this could equate to more than €820bn of avoidable storage and management costs by 2020 in EMEA firms alone. This is rarely seen as a single figure, as it sits across all cost centres and is hidden in Capex and Opex. But, if it were a single line item on the CFO’s report, questions would certainly be raised at the board table.

However, the databerg isn’t only a cost concern – it also represents a serious compliance risk. In January, the European Parliament is expected to vote in the draft European Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a set of EU-wide laws designed to harmonise data protection across the region. The new regulation will give individuals the right to manage their own personal data, to be made aware of data breaches, and to be ‘forgotten’ from organisational databases. But how can businesses hope to comply if 54 percent of the data they hold is ‘dark’, and they struggle to locate where specific information is held across multiple cloud and on-premise facilities? This potentially risky data could lead to serious brand integrity issues if a regulatory inquiry is raised.

In order to avoid spiralling future data management costs and the risk of sweeping sanctions, European businesses need to take action. This starts with illuminating dark data using technology that can identify what the data is, where it resides and who has access to it. This will then allow businesses to remove the ROT and encourage employees to proactively maintain and manage precious, business-critical data.

IDC predicts that the digital universe will reach an inconceivable 44 zettabytes by 2020 – ten times that in existence today

Dealing with data hoarding means addressing three key issues. Firstly, allocating IT budgets and building strategies based on a belief that data can be allowed to grow uncontrollably is a strategic error. Throwing good money after bad, IT investments will be used merely to store and process ROT data whilst starving the organisation of strategic information.

Secondly, the notion of ‘free storage’, both from sync and share services, and the storage bundled with cloud applications, is false. It is neither truly free of cost nor limitless. In fact, the ‘free storage’ myth means dark data is still growing, but is just further away from the line of sight of management teams, adding significant compliance risks, not to mention the added burden of review and discovery costs when not held on-premise.

Finally, our research showed how the merging of corporate and personal data across organisations’ networks and systems grows the databerg dangerously. Allowing employees more and more ways to extract and upload data is a failure of control that needs to be addressed urgently. Consider creating a data-driven culture from the top down – some successful organisations, for instance, have a company-wide ‘data cleaning day’.

Data is only as good as the information and insight we can turn it into with the right technology. And in a world where information is power, businesses can ill-afford to hoard useless or potentially non-compliant data. We’re calling on business leaders to gain visibility, take action and assume control of their data. Few predicted that growth in data volumes would one day outstrip our ability to control it. Now, at last, it has. 2016 is the time for business leaders to steer clear of the databerg, before it sinks them.