Data archiving: transforming data into your most useful asset

July 21st, 2015, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

True to the analogy of the treasure trove in “Aladdin’s Cave”, many organisations are trying to control a wealth of potentially valuable data that is piling up in gigantic, unstructured heaps. For many companies, the current approach involves sliding open the rocks surrounding the cave entrance, throwing in the latest set of data, and sealing up the entrance again. However, the currency of business today isn’t chests of magic lamps, pearl necklaces and golden coins – it is data.

bryan-balfe

Bryan Balfe

Effectively translating data into knowledge will be the difference between companies that thrive in the future, and those that get left behind. As the volume, velocity and variety of data continues to increase uncontrollably, the “Aladdin’s Cave” approach is not going to work in the future.

It is only with a clear data management and archiving strategy that an organisation can manage the inflow of new data, and the business’ demands to use that data in different ways. The trends affecting data management and archiving today can be broadly grouped into the following themes:

  • The need for organisations to have tighter controls and governance standards for data assets
  • New and increasingly stringent legislation in many industries
  • An explosion in the amount of data that needs to be managed
  • Data that is increasingly unstructured, changing, and often located outside of the organisation’s boundaries (such as the social web, for example)
  • The movement to hosted cloud environments that fundamentally changes the way information is stored.

With all these dynamics viewed together, it is clear chief information officers (CIOs) have a massive task ahead of themselves. Further adding to the complexity is the fact that lines of business are increasingly asking for data to be analysed and rendered in different ways – to discover business insights and inform strategy.

This can take the form of ever-more nuanced customer segmentation, increasingly detailed customer behaviour analysis, or a sharper focus on the organisation’s internal operations. Whatever the specific requirement may be, there’s generally a growing demand for every piece of data to be stored – and for various pieces to be stitched together and used to tell a story.

Creating a successful and sustainable data management strategy requires that issues from the perspective of the entire lifecycle of corporate data be addressed. This lifecycle view incorporates data consolidation and deduplication, future-proofing the infrastructure, aligning data records to stated retention policies, and expiring unwanted data. This requirement has highlighted the need for and has been instrumental in the creation of a new position within organisations – the chief data officer (CDO). The CDO is tasked with bridging the gap between business and IT to define and enforce data policies and ensure data assets are managed optimally to provide maximum benefits.

While data comes in many shapes and sizes, it is important to categorise data needs and plot them on a graph that asks the questions of “what is the value of this data to the business?” and “is this data required for compliance reasons?” This will provide insight into whether data should be archived, or stored on low-capacity tapes for more immediate access.

By establishing and enforcing policies that are appropriate to the business, its data, and its regulatory environment, the organisation starts positioning itself to unlock the benefits of proper data management. Achieving the principle of “defensible deletion” – which will become necessary as new regulations like the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act comes into play – is only possible with a well thought-through data strategy.

Defensible deletion means the organisation is able to prove it has fully deleted customer data after a certain stipulated period of time, in every location. This could be the primary storage environment, every backup version in other environments, further copies held within partner companies, or even on emails between employees.

At a basic level, costs are reduced as the physical storage gets used more appropriately, efficiency gains are generated as the time taken to find information is reduced, and the risks of non-compliance are reduced or altogether removed. Then, when reaching a more evolved state, the organisation and its employees are empowered to use the data more strategically – improving collaboration between business areas, releasing resources to focus on new business opportunities, better understanding customers, and preempting security threats.

Information is certainly the currency of today, and of the future. Just like the gleaming treasure in the cave, with the right archiving and data management approach, an organisation can start polishing, organising, and evaluating its most precious assets – transforming information into true business value.

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