Data bloat? Six ways you can trim fat for lean information governance in 2014

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Just like the pounds that can creep up on us over the years if we're not careful, an enterprise can accumulate massive amounts of data. In fact, IDC predicts that enterprise data growth will average around 50% each year through 2016 and storage costs are expected to consume close to 20% of the typical IT budget in 2014. 

What's more, the increase in the use of non-email communications such as instant messaging, enterprise social platforms and social media will drive up enterprise data volumes exponentially. According to Allison Walton, CEO of information governance consultancy Fortis Quay, "Many meaningful and material conversations are being conducted in these mediums and must be controlled, captured, and be discovery ready."

The sheer volume of data has downstream implications on the cost of legal, regulatory and internal investigations. The data has to be located and collected, preserved and integrity maintained, and sifted through to find relevant data. This often means using eDiscovery software and large numbers of legal professionals at significant cost per incident. 

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"With more than half of data in discovery collections being duplicative, especially with email, and less than 30% being relevant or responsive, it's safe to assume the other 20% could be office banter and/or news sources. Organizations, by and large, haven't invested the proper policy and technological approaches to avoid archiving junk", said Walton.   

Gartner estimates that every single gigabyte of data that can be justifiably removed from the collection saves the company an average of $18,000. With typical data storage running into the terabytes and petabytes these days, that savings could amount to millions of dollars for the average company. However, determining what to dispose of takes time and discipline and most companies just instruct IT to "save everything".

To make things worse, the confusing and endless array of regulations, such as Dodd-Frank, FRCP, HIPAA, FCPA and Sarbanes-Oxley, and those from the regulatory bodies such as the DOJ, SEC, FINRA, FERC, FDA, CFTC and FFIEC, require expertise resources to ensure compliance. This leads companies to over preserve data to avoid penalties, sanctions, or worse. Further, most records retention policies and systems were built around old paradigms that no longer scale for the volume and breadth of data today.

Trimming Data Fat

The solution to this excess is defensible disposal. The Compliance, Governance and Oversight Council (CGOC), a forum of over 1,900 legal, IT, records and information management professionals from corporations and government agencies, has found that 69% of information in most companies has no business, legal or regulatory value. With that in mind, the following tips will help you get your data back into fighting shape and ensure that the weight loss isn't just temporary:

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#1: You'll Get There Sooner if You Have Help. Since this isn't just an IT problem, you'll need stakeholders from IT, Legal, Compliance, Records and business units to identify the most likely targets for defensible disposal, and to establish standards and mature information lifecycle processes. With the right people at the table, you can use the guidelines established by the CGOC and the Information Governance Reference Model to help you determine your best plan to shed that unwanted data weight. The goal is to tie information value and duties to the data assets you maintain. Make sure you also have executive sponsorship. The reduction in both cost and risk will usually get your general counsel, CIO, or CFO behind you.

#2: Start With Small Gains. When there's a lot of data weight to lose, the process can seem overwhelming. Instead of spending many months or even years in planning and coming up with the perfect plan for the entire enterprise, target one or two departments. You'll learn a lot about the kind of data to target to inform the rest of your process. Also, the success you see with a small win or two will create momentum to help power bigger initiatives.

#3: Invest in Equipment. With clues you've gained from the targeted efforts you'll have some metrics on the amount of data you can defensibly dispose of. By extrapolating this to the rest of the organization based on volume, you'll get a rough idea of the amount of savings in data storage as well as the downstream impact on regulatory and legal compliance costs. That will help you define the projected return on investment to create the business case to invest in technology to automate the rest of the process. It doesn't require enterprise wide, seven or eight figure investments either.

Look for technology that will help you analyze and target existing data stores for disposal candidates. New generation solutions can index and parse through large quantities of data to speed the process while also providing documentation for defensibility. These new engines can classify data by volume, age, type, content and context while also extracting entity information and providing usage information. This sheds light on so called dark data, data that has been neglected or forgotten in archives or other locations and adds to data bloat. The analysis will also help you sweep out dusty data, the data you may know about or suspect but is obscured by time or is hard to determine disposition. Both dark and dusty data add to organizational risk and should be dealt with to bring your data back to health.

#4: Focus On Your Biggest Problem Areas First. All the steps above will show you some of the biggest areas for data improvement. Take active steps to remove those easily identifiable, non-value data classes right away. Even if you only find half of the typical 70% that has no business, regulatory, or legal value, that's still 35% of your data and savings in the millions of dollars.

#5: Set Goals. To keep the pace of data weight loss going, you have to set milestone goals. This will also provide the visible success checkpoints for stakeholders and your executive sponsor. Involve everyone in the process and provide rewards so you have positive reinforcement to keep and build the momentum.

#6: Change Behaviors. Once you take off the data weight, you need to change behaviors so your data stays lean and relevant. New sources of data can develop, such as integration of social media into workflow, so having good processes and technology in place to help make sure you don't start gaining volume again is important. With proper training, attitude, and a system in place that supports good data hygiene, you'll minimize the chance of gaining it back.

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