There's nothing worse than finding notes that could have helped you in a meeting or a presentation you had to give the day before. However, most workers -- and the IT teams who support them -- have experienced this situation. Employees have become accustomed to saving nearly every file they work with to their desktops or their company servers, from multiple versions of unfinished reports to notes from brainstorming sessions. Finding the right file later on can be a problem.
On an organizational level, this unstructured data adds up quickly; approximately 80% of the data companies create is unstructured and likely to become stagnant or "dark" unless IT has a strategy for sorting through its contents and gathering insights. In turn, a company's sea of dark data can unknowingly expose the organization and its employees to serious security and privacy risks.
What must IT do to harness the power of dark data and use it to improve business, rather than live in fear of its dangers?
1. Know what you're up against.
Consider the file types in your company's stored data before you try to extract insights that might be buried within it. Dark data often comprises the documents workers share and collaborate on every day, like PowerPoint decks, spreadsheets, and text documents. It also can be rich with archived email and program files, multimedia files, and more. Sorting these files will help you identify patterns among employees and between departments that will help you develop a sustainable strategy for keeping dark data in the light.
2. Evaluate what you have to lose.
How much better would the outcome of that meeting or presentation have been if you were prepared with the detailed notes and statistics you couldn't initially find? Employees across departments -- such as sales, marketing, human resources, and operations -- could miss key opportunities on a daily basis due to issues with productivity and lack of organization. When those opportunities involve the company's strategic sales plans, key hires, and campaigns, the fallout from those missed chances are not confined to individual employees.
What's more, if a file contains sensitive information and is misplaced or mistakenly shared in the public domain, your IT team and your organization will be at fault -- regardless of your involvement in that file's creation and storage. Legal actions won't be curbed by protests that you weren't aware your server contained personally identifiable information about customers, employees, or partners. Seek out tools that can highlight where sensitive information resides, and you can implement data governance standards that will help your IT team avoid the losing end of a legal battle or security breach.
3. Stop the data deluge before it becomes unbearable.
The only way to stop unstructured data from accumulating and posing risks to your organization's privacy, profit, and productivity is to implement a structured, sustainable plan for analyzing new information before it disappears into the dark. At the point of storage, any given piece of data should be searchable, accessible, and usable. This responsibility shouldn't be shouldered by IT alone. Just as a team of employees can create mountains of data, it is also your most powerful asset in ensuring information remains under control.
Before investing in a new storage or analytics solution, consider whether the technology will empower employees to pull insights easily from data and identify key patterns on their own. If IT solutions are data-aware and equipped to accomplish this feat, your company will be able to scale and take on more dynamic initiatives in the future.
It can be intimidating to attempt to shine light on dark data, especially if it has been building within a company for months, years, or even more, its expansion aided by recent breakthroughs in storage that make it possible for employees to rely on a "save it even if you don't need it" mindset. However, building a framework based on data-aware technology can help IT teams overcome this cache of data, improve privacy and productivity, and add momentum to the revolutionary shift in the way data is regarded in the first place.