How to evolve your data and decision-making to meet the challenges of tomorrow
Listen carefully when the subject of optimizing IT comes up. You’ll hear a lot of discussion about advancing the technology: cloud computing, blockchain, machine learning. You name it. The information? Not so much. As IT professionals and consumers, we’ve been trained to love the shock of the new. The newest iPhones, cryptocurrency, AI, and the “next big thing” are all ready to capture our imagination and our budgets.
Data, however, is like the air that surrounds us. It’s necessary for survival, but we notice it only when it is too polluted, too hot or cold, or is rapidly running out. We tend to think of data’s future only in terms of what we need to store, secure, buy or sell. And, of course, how to pour it into all of those new machines.
Many organizations don’t invest in governance to structure and manage data. This is a mistake they will soon regret. Greater reliance on the cloud and its technologies is leading to a significant increase in data creation—look no further than the spike of data created in 2020.
Without a governance model in place, the increase in data can leave IT environments in disarray and present significant challenges. Data sprawl, or the massive amount of data produced by enterprises, can get away from you quickly. To truly optimize any IT environment, from the smallest nonprofits to the largest multinational conglomerates, the focus must be on evolving both the “I” and the “T” to prepare for what comes next.
Contain the sprawl
The data-as-air metaphor only takes us so far. Unlike air, data is created exponentially, with varying degrees of purity, necessity or even oversight. Naturally, there is data that should (or must) be kept in perpetuity (such as HR or certain financial data). Some are valuable for a certain period, such as old documentation that no longer aligns with your current product or business processes. Other saved data were never of any use, and the amount will surprise you.
Data sprawl is largely invisible as it quietly accumulates among employees in environments where data governance isn’t firmly managed. While it can creep in undetected, sprawl brings significant drawbacks, including:
- Cost—Adding more storage space to house more and more terabytes of largely unused, forgotten, or unneeded data is a costly habit. These costs will continue to grow for as long as you let them.
- Poor user experience—Have you ever been frustrated sifting through (virtual) mountains of data searching for the information you need? Data sprawl can give people access to information they don’t need (or shouldn’t have) and impede access to the people who need it most.
- Security risks—Data run rampant is easier to steal, sell or alter. For example, if not tightly monitored, the R&D notes and prototypes of a project you abandoned years ago could save a new entrant time and money in building an improved version.
To optimize your IT environment for the future, you need to audit and organize your data in the present. Still reluctant to get rid of those R&D notes or the photos from that last pre-pandemic company picnic? No worries—they can be stored on an archival server to which only a limited number of people have access.
Get serious about data governance
The pandemic has greatly heightened the need for strong data governance across all enterprise levels. Many organizations rushed to embrace cloud solutions without a comprehensive data governance plan in place to enable remote working. However liberating the cloud may be for off-premises staffing, it also changes the dynamic for off-premises computing. For example, where is the data going, what needs to move, and what happens to what’s left?
Poor data governance can have wide-ranging implications, including:
- Single-use channels – Without governance rules in place, employees may create single-use chats or channels that are used once and then abandoned. When not monitored, important files or information can be left floating within your IT environment – and potentially available for guest users or others to access.
- Legal matters—Without a solid grasp of your data and the tools to do e-discovery, your organization could be unprotected should legal or regulatory issues arise.
- Data cataloguing and right of access—The European Union, other countries, and several U.S. states are allowing for the right of access by data subjects. For example, a GDPR request could prove problematic if your organization isn’t clear on what data is collected, what (if anything) it’s used for, why you still have it, and, if required, whether it has been fully erased.
- Unused infrastructure—Your organization may have licenses for software, virtual machines, servers and storage, and infrastructure that you no longer use. However, without a definitive governance structure, the costs for these systems may continue unnoticed and unabated.
Just as important, imposing more disciplined data governance allows you to transform and optimize information management throughout your entire organization. You can change how your organization structures data to better meet your current business and user needs. For instance, maybe your company can improve how it structures data within Office 365, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, and Salesforce by considering how file sources and data are accessed and used. Specialized applications, systems, and document libraries can be structured to accommodate data that’s needed regularly and archive data that is rarely used.
You can also develop highly refined user personas within your user base and allocate what data is available to each one. HR will have very different needs than sales, which will have very different needs from the finance or IT departments. You’ll be able to customize entitlements and retention and deletion guidelines. You’ll also get a clearer idea of the IT cost per user.
Additionally, consider authorizing a governance lead to own reporting and methodologies for allocating technology resources and measuring costs. Or, consider leveraging a third-party tech solution that can monitor your IT systems and deliver insights to inform decision-making. Bringing in these resources can be invaluable in managing data within your organization.
Tomorrow won’t wait…and neither will your data
As with any organizational change, you will encounter doubters perfectly fine with the status quo. The justification is the same — “We may need that someday.”
To ensure that your organization is ready, you need to be willing to make tough decisions about what data to keep, what to toss, and how to best manage and structure your data. Introducing an effective governance model will help your users, systems, and budget operate more efficiently and effectively, no matter what tomorrow may bring.
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