Big data is throwing data archives into chaos

There’s no doubt that organisations of all sizes and across industries are drowning in big data, and the volume of information being collected will only continue to increase in the coming years. Hard drives, servers, file cabinets and storage facilities across the UK are at capacity. What most people don’t know, however, is that massive amounts of data are also leading to cluttered archives and inefficient strategies that keep organisations from mining insights that could otherwise improve business outcomes.

What is data archiving and why is it important?

Not to be confused with data backup, point in time copies of production data for operational or disaster recovery, data archiving is the process of storing fixed content for future retrieval and use. While archiving data has typically meant moving less frequently accessed static data into long-term storage, archiving now includes strategies such as archive in-place, data warehousing, and fully indexed content placed on near-term storage solutions all designed to allow greater accessibility to data. These strategies make it faster and easier for organisations to meet increased legal and regulatory demands and create opportunities for businesses to synthesise the information necessary to inform critical business decisions.

A recent study , “Mining for Insight: Rediscovering the Data Archive,” an IDC white paper, announced and published by Iron Mountain, confirmed that organisations are indeed drowning in data and unable to effectively mine their data archives for key insights. However, the findings also indicate that a subset of organisations are in fact successfully leveraging their data archives and the benefits are impressive – as much as an additional $10 million (£6.4 million) in cost savings from streamlined IT and customer service operations.

More data, more problems

To start, the study found that most UK businesses (52 per cent) maintain up to five separate electronic archives, and are archiving a range of structured and unstructured data – not just email and files. Among the respondents, 67 per cent archive application, database and structured files, 60 per cent archive images, 43 per cent archive Web 2.0 content (corporate blogs, corporate WIKIs, RSS, etc.) and 47 per cent archive voice data, e.g. call centre records, and voicemail.

Without a clear process and pressure from the top to implement Big Data programmes, more than 48 per cent of organisations simply archive everything to avoid investing time and resources upfront to determine what’s truly important.

Over time, companies archiving everything quickly amass “data swamps,” making data hard to find when needed, as opposed to the “data lakes” many businesses aspire to create with a crystal clear data archiving strategy for quick and easy information retrieval.

Big data blinders

Surprisingly, the study found that 72 per cent of organisations in the UK believe they are already maximising the value of their archives. However, the study also found that only 32 per cent of companies are actually using archives for business analysis, a critical process to drive additional revenue. This is a serious disconnect that demonstrates data archiving is a real blind spot for business leaders.

Even more telling is the fact that a staggering 87 per cent of organisations lack a uniform process for archiving across data types, making it impossible to identify and access important information when needed.

Archived data impacts the bottom line

The study reveals that organisations with a well-defined data archive process stand to realise value from two potential avenues: cost savings and added revenue from monetising archives. On the savings front, nearly half (47 per cent) of the organisations polled in the UK realised $1 million (£640,000) or more in savings over the past year from risk mitigation and avoidance of litigation, with the top 19 per cent reporting savings of more than $10 million (£6.4 million). Similarly, nearly half (45 per cent) of organisations reaped $1 million (£640,000) or more in savings stemming from reduced operational or capital costs, with the top 17 per cent capturing more than $10 million (£6.4 million).

More striking is an organisation’s ability to draw new revenue from an effectively managed data archive. More than a third (36 per cent) of companies surveyed benefitted from an additional $1 million (£640,000) or more in revenue, the top 12 per cent gained more than $10 million (£6.4 million). On average, companies polled saw an additional $7.5 million (£4.8 million) in new revenue streams from their data archive.

How can you bridge the disconnect between perception and reality?

To help organisations get back on track, Iron Mountain and IDC recommend organisations implement the following processes:

• Appoint a Chief Data Officer to oversee and derive value from the data archive, while working closely with the Chief Operating and Chief Information Officers to set long-term business and data strategies.

• Develop information maps of all data sources and repositories (and their value) across the organisation.

• Implement a holistic, consistent archiving strategy that addresses data retention schedules, use cases, the value of data, necessary accessibility and archive costs.

• Consider working with a third party vendor with specific expertise to help optimise your archiving solution while freeing up internal IT resources to focus on more strategic and innovative work.

The disconnect between perception and reality when it comes to data archiving is real, and just because you’re drowning in big data, doesn’t mean you can’t get your organisation back on track.

Eileen Sweeney is SVP and General Manager, Data Management, Iron Mountain