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How to Evaluate Your Data Footprint

In this special guest feature, Ahson Ahmad, Chief Product and Customer Officer, Ripcord, presents an interesting take on ‘Data Heat’ which is how it’s possible to help customers determine which data to delete, and which data to store. Ahson is responsible for product strategy and direction at Ripcord. He is a passionate technologist, having gone through the engineering, professional services and sales ranks before he made the switch to product management, which was motivated out of customer empathy – because “customers deserve better products”. Ahson is also industry veteran in the content management space – having worked for two decades across three continents in the content management space.

Ever since the phrase ‘digital transformation’ hit mainstream, the amount of data we collect and store has increased exponentially, so much so we had to invent a new phrase, ‘Big Data’, just to quantify it. Now, from 2021-2025, IDC predicts there will be more than double the amount of new data created since the advent of digital storage.

Seeing as we’re already swimming in troves of data and expecting the lakes and warehouses to grow significantly in the coming months and years, businesses should be asking themselves today what they’re storing, if they need it, and how their data should be managed. To make matters more complicated, many businesses also store data on paper, which is hard to access, can be dispersed across multiple on-site and off-site locations, and is typically not tracked or catalogued in any way. 

Knowing that businesses generally have a mix of digital and paper data, it can be difficult to evaluate your complete footprint without first taking a full inventory to understand what information you have, and where it lies. This is the first step companies need to take whether their goal is gathering business insights from existing data, streamlining the data storage process or a mix of both.

Once this is accomplished, you can begin to determine what data is no longer relevant to your organization and if it can therefore be deleted.

Determine Data ‘Heat’

Establishing data ‘heat’ is a simple way to assess the value of your data, and can help you determine what can be deleted, what should be kept, and in the case of paper files, what should be digitized or destroyed. To start, ask yourself how often the digital or paper data is accessed, by how many people and from what locations.

Anything accessed regularly, by multiple people, or even different teams, should clearly be kept. Another obvious example would be any financial records or sensitive information that is required to be stored by law, or that could be needed in the future. For clear-cut cases like these, the question is less about should you keep the data, and more about who needs access to it. If it needs to be accessed by third parties, contractors or remote employees, the data should be digital-first, and any paper files need to be digitized to increase accessibility.

Lastly, if you’re holding onto digital or paper data that has not been accessed in years, that is no longer relevant to your business, and there are no laws requiring it to be stored, then by all means – delete or destroy it.

Organize Your Data

Now that you’ve determined the ‘heat’ of your data, it’s time to remove what isn’t needed, and organize the rest. For digital data, organization can be made easy with a good document management system that identifies valuable information and feeds it into applications where needed, or simply places the file in the most appropriate folder. If your organization does not have an up-to-date document strategy in place, you are potentially looking at a large annual loss of revenue and hundreds of wasted hours your knowledge works could be using to help you grow your business.

For example, IDC estimates that an enterprise with 1,000 knowledge workers may lose up to $5 million per year duplicating or recreating information that cannot easily be found due to poor document management practices. While a document management system will help provide greater insight into the digital information already available, it’s impossible to tell what’s in paper storage without first digitizing the paper records themselves. This may seem like an undertaking, but with the right tools, digitizing paper records is easy, and can even lead to new areas of income.

Legacy Paper Digitization Unlocks New Revenue Streams

Consider this scenario when thinking about the value paper digitization may provide a business that has a 70-year legacy. A natural oil and gas company decided to digitize its ‘well logs’ from the 1940s and 1950s. In those decades it may not have been as economically viable to gather oil or gas from a certain location due to market prices or the cost of the equipment. Today however, market conditions have changed as have the methods of extraction – making these ‘well logs’ viable and providing new income. In another example, a product manufacturer may have looked into alternate materials and resources a few years ago, but ultimately decided not to pursue them due to costs or accessibility. Today, this could be a completely different story, and by uncovering the ‘paper trail’ a new area of revenue generation can be found. With these documents digitized, manageable and searchable via Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence technology, information that was previously unused or unknown becomes new opportunities for revenue.

Make Space for the Data You Need

It’s clear there are long-term benefits to understanding your data footprint. Having organized, accessible and clean data to leverage as a business can lead you to new areas of income and prevent employees from having to recreate information that cannot be found.

Knowing the pools of data we swim in will only grow larger, and the paper in our warehouses continues to gather dust, it’s best to get ahead of the times and understand your data footprint so you can remove what’s unnecessary, and make room for the future.

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