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Why you should be doing more with your dark data

Analyst IDC has forecasted that an astonishing 175 zettabytes of data will be generated by 2025. Compared with Deloitte’s prediction that the total amount of data generated in 2020 would hit 44 zettabytes, it’s clear that data growth is increasing at an astronomical rate, and doesn’t show any sign of slowing.

It’s therefore unsurprising that many businesses all over the world are feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data they’re having to store and manage on a daily basis. Increasingly difficult to keep on top of, a lot of this data gets seen, stored, and then forgotten about, eventually becoming “dark”.

What is dark data?

In a nutshell, dark data is unclassified data whose value has not yet been identified. Gartner defines it as “the information assets organisations collect, process, and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes”.

The main issue with dark data is that it’s often hoarded without properly being analysed or assessed, meaning it sits idle in your storage archives and takes up valuable capacity that could otherwise be allocated to the data you know is critical to your business. If not stored and processed in the correct way, retaining dark data could see you incur unnecessary expense and increased security risk, as the more data you store, the more needs to be secured.

But dark data isn’t all bad – it can possess hidden value for your business if you know what to do with it. In fact, back in 2018 IDC predicted that if unstructured business data was properly analysed by 2020, it could lead to productivity gains of $430 billion for organisations that can utilise it. So while unclassified dark data could present some serious ramifications for businesses, it also potentially holds extraordinary value and offers key insight into your business decisions, from predicting customer behaviour patterns to shedding light on upsell opportunities.

With this in mind, we’ve put together three important steps that will help you turn dark data from a cost into an opportunity:

Step 1) Classify and analyse your data

Classifying the reams and reams of business data is a worthwhile exercise that could unlock a wealth of untapped value that you didn’t even know you had. Unfortunately, your dark data is heavily composed of redundant, obsolete, or trivial (ROT), which can make you lose sight of the data that truly matters. This ROT data holds little or no business value, so once classified this can be easily discarded to make room for the useful data you can use to derive important, business-changing insights or is critical business data that needs proper protection. We can introduce you to the artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that have proven particularly successful in transforming this data into something more meaningful.

Step 2) Review your governance and security policies

Once you’ve successfully classified your dark data, it’s essential to reconsider what both your existing information governance and data security policies currently look like. Many businesses will have already made considerable changes to how they collect and process data in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018, but there is still a lot of work left to be done. Without reviewing your existing protections and data governance on a regular basis, you’re opening your business up to considerable risks that could ultimately damage your reputation. After all, as your data volume increases, so does the risk of a breach as cybercriminals see you as a potentially more attractive target. Redefining your governance and data security policies will ensure you’ve got a strong structure in place to help simplify and streamline your information management both now and in the future, so you can prevent a further build-up of dark and ROT data. Conducting regular security audits, creating data retention policies, and introducing file encryption are all good moves towards better data governance. We’d strongly recommend looking into achieving ISO 27001 – the international standard for organisational security and data governance – to ensure the safety of your data and demonstrate to your customers that you take this issue seriously.

Step 3) Educate your people

Some of your dark data only exists as a result of your people’s behaviour. It’s often the case that when storing and sharing certain files, they can be too relaxed, and will frequently turn to using shadow IT because it’s potentially quicker or easier to use. Shared drives such as Google Drive and Dropbox then become platforms for pockets of dark data, simply because your IT team doesn’t know your people are using them. Your people can sometimes also make the assumption that because they’re accessible, your company resources and cloud repositories are free for their personal use, and could end up storing irrelevant data that takes up vital capacity. They may create multiple versions of files, or store the same information in multiple locations, creating messy silos of duplicated data that leave it vulnerable and cause costs to spiral. This is, however, easily rectified by taking the time to educate your users on what data they can and cannot store and where. We can help you achieve this with security awareness and compliance training, and even by setting security policies that ensure only certain people are granted access to specific data at particular times.

We make light work of your dark data

While the idea of digging up your dark data can be an intimidating one, the rewards are well worth the hard work. Get in touch and we’ll help you minimise risk, improve business efficiencies, streamline your governance, and ensure you take back control of your data for good.