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Don’t Put Off Unstructured Data Risk Reduction

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Read more about author Michael Jack.

In today’s digital world, stockpiling data has become an unrelenting requirement across virtually every industry. While there are numerous reasons to do so, a primary driver is the invaluable insights it offers to business leaders, helping them to make smarter, faster data-driven decisions. 

Today, the majority of this stockpiled data is unstructured. In fact, unstructured data accounts for up to 90% of today’s enterprise data information assets and is quickly growing at the rate of 55% to 65% per year. Accordingly, security experts warn that because unstructured data exists in many different forms and levels of sensitivity, it poses significant risks to your organization’s data security and compliance. 

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IT leaders have the obligation and liability to handle this vital data in a trustworthy and expeditious manner to avoid preventable data risk exposure.

Why Unstructured Data Is Especially at Risk

Unstructured data is especially at risk because of the sheer volume of it. As such, there are fewer control mechanisms to secure it and access management inconsistencies abound. With the increasingly sophisticated cyberthreat landscape, unstructured data is likely to be a target of ransomware, data breaches, insider maliciousness, and any number of other threats that can put an organization at risk. Enterprises may find themselves vulnerable because they don’t know precisely what unstructured data they possess, why they have it, where it is, how long it’s been there, or who owns it. Further compounding the risk, inadequate systems, unreliable data protection protocols, and antiquated frameworks can tie the hands of an entire IT department.

Minimize Exposure by Deleting Unnecessary Data 

The amount of data generated globally each day is expected to reach 463 exabytes by 2025, according to the World Economic Forum. With most of that data being unstructured, it is inevitable that organizations will eventually amass unwieldy volumes of functionally obsolete unstructured data. 

Organizations often hold on to historical data long after it has outlived its usefulness, often for a few reasons. With the influx of unstructured data that is created daily, IT teams struggle to keep up with where it is, what it is for, and who created it. It can also be time-consuming to figure out what to keep and what to delete. However, the longer unnecessary data is kept in storage, the more expensive it becomes. And why would enterprises want to spend money on data they no longer need? 

Unstructured data should be held for business, legal, and compliance purposes only for as long as absolutely necessary. Data deletion guidelines should be created and strictly adhered to in order to support business goals, meet compliance requirements, and minimize excess junk-data storage.  

ROT (Redundant, Obsolete, and Trivial) unstructured data should be proactively deleted, and cold data should be archived. Stored personal data should be trimmed dramatically (i.e., delete ex-employee and ex-customer data). In fact, the GDPR guidance suggests that organizations should periodically review stored data to identify and properly address information kept beyond the intended use. Slimming down the storage coffers should remain a key initiative for most organizations throughout 2022 and beyond to lessen their risk exposure and save money.

Never Underestimate the Importance of Unstructured Data Ownership

Responsibility for maintaining the transparency of who has ownership, control, and authority over their organization’s unstructured data assets and how those assets can be used falls at the feet of enterprise IT leaders. Failure to set comprehensive policies can leave organizations vulnerable to data risk liability, compliance failures, and lawsuits. 

Data owners must be discerning, highly adept decision-makers, and possess the fortitude to grant other responsible individuals data ownership to varying degrees. Ergo, it is paramount to formally identify data ownership together with a discoverable trail of responsibility and accountability for managing an organization’s unstructured dataset throughout its lifecycle – from creation to deletion, including usage of that data in between – based on each specific organization’s Data Governance guidelines and external legal and regulations compliance mandates. An established system of rules, clear directives, processes, and behaviors will minimize the need for ambiguous decision-making. Rather, it creates a governance-guided ability to understand possession, define usage directives, set quality standards, and consistently resolve unstructured data issues.

How Unstructured Data Management Solutions Help Mitigate Risks

In today’s digital reality, every industry is in a perpetual cycle of risk exposure–risk reduction, with no end in sight. While IT teams continue refining how they protect and mitigate risks to their unstructured data estate, they are looking more and more for expertise from data management vendors that can ease the burden of managing risk exposure to their unstructured data. There are a variety of data management solutions on the market, but special consideration must be given when addressing unstructured data. 

IT leaders must look for unstructured data management solutions equipped to handle the complexity, volume, and uniqueness of risks to their proprietary data all while balancing business goals as well as IT needs and budgets. Consideration should be given to solutions that are vendor-neutral and can seamlessly automate tasks in order to expedite unstructured data management projects. 

As they wade through the often-murky waters of compliance and data risk exposure management, enterprise IT organizations seek robust, high-performance unstructured data management tools capable of monitoring and assessing every facet of their risk exposure regardless of the multiple types of storage utilized or where and how many locations worldwide that their unstructured data is stored.  

The best solutions will be infinitely scalable, highly flexible, and deliver IT teams peace of mind with total platform interoperability, 100% verification, fast and easy recovery, easy setup and management, and 24/7 support.  

With great power comes great responsibility. Using the right unstructured data management solution can help the balancing act between protecting your data and harnessing its power.

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