How to avoid becoming a big data liability

When it comes to big data, many business leaders assume that if they accumulate large amounts of information about their customers, new insights and increased ROI is sure to follow.

This is understandable since many organisations today are massive data factories, generating data in large volumes — sometimes consciously, but more often not.

In either case, the amount of collected information is growing rapidly; with terabytes upon terabytes of data and metadata (data about the data) filling storage disks to capacity. However, collecting that data is only the first step. Only by making sense of all the collected info can businesses realise their big data dream.

When data is truly an asset, it’s usually easy to find, categorise and use ubiquitously. It adds value through serving as a business intelligence tool, risk management utility or likely both.

On the other hand, data that is considered a liability is not easy to uncover, is unwieldy, or holds little value. Think of it as a digital landfill. For many companies, data is piling up with no place to go. This is where the data dream becomes a nightmare for many companies. IDC recently reported that 3% of data today is tagged, and just 0.5% is analysed; that’s a lot of landfill.

How do you know if your data is becoming a liability?

First, if employees are unable to find the information they need to perform their jobs and are resorting to outside data search platforms (i.e., Google or Bing) or if they are sending and receiving data via external email hosts like Gmail instead of internal services, that free flowing data becomes a liability.

Even extremely rigorous security protocols can’t prevent an individual within the organisation from breaching them if they feel they have no choice.  

>See also: Big data vs. big regulation: Will changing the rules empower consumers?

Next, if outside requests for data from interested parties like regulators, partners and those on the opposing side of litigation take a long time to fulfil, or if they can’t be fulfilled at all, that often creates a greater liability.

This year, for example, CVS Caremark paid $11 million (£6.5m) to settle bad record-keeping allegations for violations of the Controlled Substances Act. Cases like this
often result in similar penalties; large fees for such an easily prevented oversight that can be catastrophic for smaller or struggling companies.

Finally, if your data storage costs, and the costs associated with people having to look for data, are rising due to wasted cycles, that’s also a liability. Making data difficult to find lowers the productivity of the employees that rely on it and results in lowered efficiency and worker morale.

In addition, this creates incentive for employees to look for work-around methods that can expose confidential information to unauthorised users.

How then can you ensure that these problems don’t arise and you are able to turn data from a liability into an asset? One way is through embracing a process called “information governance”.

Information governance enables a cross-departmental approach to increasing the value of information while also managing associated risks and costs. It helps you keep, catalogue or delete useless data in a way that streamlines how your organisation interacts with stored information and improves its overall value.

As data grows in volume, increases in variety, and moves with greater velocity, the capabilities required to govern it must increase exponentially.

Information governance is a process that helps companies do precisely that. This process is driven by a combination of both technology and people and begins at the point of data creation.

>See also: 5 tips for turning big data into a valuable asset

Although implementation details may vary by company, information governance generally consists of four pillars: the implementation of comprehensive data policies, data mapping and connectivity, categorisation and application of predictive governance processes.

After implementing an information governance process, organisations will quickly see savings in their bottom line. Infrastructure and labour costs in particular tend to drop when the processes are integrated with internal enterprise resource planning systems to create a single unified system of governance.

When integrated like this, information governance improves a variety of business processes and facilitates understanding of customer insights and general business intelligence.

Additionally, information governance decreases legal risk. The ability to quickly produce data for a regulatory body or for a court case can’t be underestimated. For example, in 2008, Qualcomm had to pay Broadcom $8.5 million (£5.7m) because it was guilty of stonewalling records evidence for a court case.

In it’s ruling, the court emphasised that “lawyers and clients must work together to ensure that both understand how and where electronic documents, records and emails are maintained and to determine how best to locate, review and produce responsive documents.”

This case shows just how important information governance is, not only for business insights and cost savings, but for reputation as well. Transforming your data into an asset is important, but your company’s reputation is the ultimate asset.

By maintaining coherent and flexible information governance systems, companies are able to tackle information glut before it overtakes their systems; eliminating data that is a potential liability and truly turning the remaining information into an asset.


Dean Gonsowski, associate general counsel at Recommind

Avatar photo

Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...