Are You a Data Hoarder?

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If you’ve seen the TV program Hoarders, then you understand how hanging onto too many things can cause serious problems.

The show, which initially aired on AE, documents the real-life struggles of people with compulsive hoarding disorders. It’s pretty heavy stuff, as family, a psychologist and a professional cleaning crew try to convince the hoarder to let go of items that have absolutely no value and are creating health and safety risks.

Perhaps the show can extend its services to certain enterprises that hang onto unnecessary data like a hoarder hangs onto rusted out cars, piles of newspapers and cats.

Not all data that businesses collect is useful.

There is a strong case for the benefits of big data and its potential, but in a recent thought piece, “Why Data Deletion Makes Sense (and Dollars),” Jake Frazier, FTI consulting senior managing director, Technology, Information Governance and Compliance, shows how deleting data is the best way to reduce costs.

Businesses often do not know what data they possess. Much of the information may be junk, and data analysts waste time working with this junk, Frazier argues.

Why do businesses collect and store more data than they are able to process and use? Big data hype and the idea that more is better are driving factors.

Another reason businesses store data is fear of the possible legal consequences that may arise from deleting information. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulations demand that brokers and dealers retain all client account information for six years and copies of all reports requested or required by regulators for three years, Frazier writes. Regulations such as these encourage data hoarding, as many businesses believe that in the current rigorous regulatory environment, it is safer to keep everything and delete nothing. There is, in effect, no obvious incentive to delete, and underpreserving creates risk if data later are deemed critical or discoverable. Recognizing this growing problem, and the potentially unreasonable persistence of data, some European states have proactive deletion policies, especially in cases such as employee performance reviews and disciplinary actions.

According to the European Union Advisory Board on Data Protection and Privacy, “The annual assessment of a worker contains information regarding a concrete date and a given contact. After some years, there is no reason in principle to store the information regarding such evaluations. Therefore, the retention period should be limited to two or three years maximum after the evaluation.”

The total cost of ownership for storage is not declining. If a hypothetical company stores one petabyte of data now, it is likely to store 1.45 PB next year. If the storage cost drops 15% or 30% while volume grows 40%, storage cost cannot decline.

It’s time to cull unnecessary data before it impedes analysts from finding real value in an organization’s data. Either do it now, or wait for a film crew and an interventionist to descend on your data center.

Patrick K. Burke is senior editor of CIO Insight.