“Marie Kondo-ing” Your Unstructured Data

Michele Hope

Decluttering Guru Marie Kondo has generated a popular movement of devotees now madly paring down personal belongings that no longer “spark joy.” But what if you could take Kondo’s philosophy and apply it to an organization’s mountain of unstructured data?

Right away, there might be a problem: Instead of sparking joy, this growing mountain of unstructured data is more likely to spark woe for the average organization. And the woe appears to be getting more woeful.

By 2020, some claim 90% of the world’s stored data will be unstructured. That’s 44 zettabytes! Isn’t it past time for organizations to get a better handle on their own unstructured data clutter?

Unstructured Data — What Is It?

Found across an organization’s on-premises and cloud-based storage systems, unstructured data consists of small and large computer files — like text files and other digital flotsam and jetsam — that exist outside of your corporate database systems. (If you want a more thorough definition, TechTarget has a pretty good one.) Here are some examples:

  • Adobe PDF files
  • Word document files
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • Corporate reports
  • Video surveillance footage
  • Email archives
  • Instant messages
  • Images
  • Social media posts
  • Sensor and log data

Identify, Classify, Decide

For those who choose to use them, solutions based on artificial intelligence and machine learning promise to alleviate some of the load for organizations with too much data to sort on their own.

However, some heavy-lifting will still be required to identify where unstructured data lives and whether to keep or dispose of it. Even keeping it requires further decisions: How long should you retain it? Where should you store it?

To further complicate the issue, good arguments about keeping or disposing of this data exist on both sides. A general counsel might endorse the idea of “defensible disposition” or defensible deletion. This justifies getting rid of digital data as soon as it has served its purpose. As Bill Tolson explained, “If data exists, it can be discovered, raising the cost of e-discovery dramatically.” Some privacy legislation, like the General Data Protection Regulation, is likely to reinforce this philosophy.

Yet, in the age of big data, organizations also report greater value and revenue from mining their own mountains of archive data. So, how should you proceed?

Get Started

Talking about this can cause a headache. The solution: Just start sorting through your data.

Get help if you need it. Crowdsource what other organizations are doing. Ask your lawyer whether you should keep certain data. Ask internal and external experts who follow emerging data management practices for your industry. Ask experts involved in data management, records retention and information governance. Invest in setting your organization’s digital data to rights.

The “sparking joy” part may well come later: When you hear of the next corporate data breach, compliance violation or data privacy fine, heave a sigh of relief that it wasn’t you.

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