We all know companies are collecting more and more data, and many are using it to come up with amassing insights. In fact just about every industry is going through rapid change thanks to harnessing the power of Big Data and smart analytics.
But is collecting huge amounts of data always a good thing? As you can guess from the title, my opinion is that it probably is not!
Too much of a good thing, can be a bad thing – whether it’s chocolate cake or data. The idea that companies which live by the “collect everything” ethos can end up “data rich and insight poor” is a frequent warning.
The dangers and pitfalls of data hoarding are in fact identical to those of “real-life” hoarding – many of us may suffer ourselves from this compulsive behaviour, or have a friend or family member who does so – so will be aware of the consequences. A house full of useless, valueless junk, making it very difficult to find what we need when we need it, and leaving us no space to do anything useful with.
An excess of outdated information which is no longer relevant, or was never relevant in the first place but collected because someone thought “that might come in useful one day” can blur an organisation’s focus and lead it down many wrong paths.
So are you a Big Data hoarder? Here are five warning signs to look out for, which might indicate that you are …
Collecting data, rather than planning or analysis, has become your focus
There’s no point collecting data that you don’t need. It’s easy to go into a data operation with the ethos of “collect it all and work out what to do with it later.” This is the wrong way to go about things and will often lead to projects drowning in a bog of irrelevant statistics and metrics. You should always start with strategy – decide what you want to do with data and what business problems you want it to help you solve, then focus on collecting only data which is strictly relevant.
You feel you need to keep every bit of data your business has ever collected
A real-life hoarder will cling on to toys and other items from his or her childhood which they have no use for today, for sentimental reasons. Similarly, organisations which have been collecting data for years may feel a strong attachment to legacy data which, realistically, is no longer going to be of any use. Most industries exist in a fast-changing state where all that is truly relevant is what is happening now – Walmart, for example, rely on just the last four weeks’ worth of transactional data to run their day-to-day merchandising analytics. Just like with those childhood toy collections, when you find that the only excuse you have to hold on to data is sentimental reasons, it’s probably time to ditch it.
You are always running out of space
The home of a real-world hoarder will usually be packed from floor to ceiling with junk. Entire rooms may be unusable because they are crammed with the results of a lifetime of living by the “collect everything” ethos. This leads to a lack of living and breathing space. In data and business terms, this equates to money. All data storage costs money, and no business has an infinite budget, so it follows that no business can afford to carry on collecting and storing all the data it generates indefinitely. Having to sort through stacks of junk to find the useful stuff they need creates unnecessary workloads and distracts from the tasks in hand.
You feel like can’t get rid of data because you might need it later
An imaginative mind might see all sorts of potential uses for just about any mundane, everyday item. Many real-life hoarders accumulate all sorts of random junk on the basis that they might find a use for it one day. Of course this sort of thinking is fine as long as it is accompanied by moderation in action, but when your hoarding is creating confusion and practical difficulties in the here-and-now, it far outweighs any vague and nebulous potential uses it might, just possibly, have in the future. In data terms, all hoarding costs money, as there will always be storage costs, as well as security and compliance implications when your data is sensitive. Speaking of sensitive data - the consequences of data loss and breaches must be considered too. A major leak of sensitive personal information can easily destroy a business or even lead to charges of criminal negligence. Imagine how much more galling it would be to fall foul of this, if you didn’t even really need the data that you lost in the first place!
You are constantly moving and reorganising your data, but never actually delete it
As the years roll on and technological needs change, so does the way we store data. Floppy disks, CD-ROMs, Zip Drives, magnetic tape storage, cloud-based distributed storage systems – large organisations probably have their archives spread across all of them at one time or another. Compulsive real-life hoarders will often find they spend huge amounts of time reorganising their storage (i.e. their homes) in order to fit in more stuff, but never getting rid of anything. The next time you find yourself transferring media from one outdated storage medium to whatever new and flashy technology you are upgrading to, and realise you haven’t used it since the last time you moved it – perhaps it’s time to ditch it?
Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and advisor to companies and governments. He has worked with and advised many of the world's best-known organisations. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 10 Business Influencers in the world (in fact, No 5 - just behind Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He writes on the topics of intelligent business performance for various publications including Forbes, HuffPost, and LinkedIn Pulse. His blogs and SlideShare presentation have millions of readers.