Drowning in Data or Coping with Compliance

By | October 17, 2006

Had you been faced with a multi-million dollar fine for losing an email 10 years ago, you’d have thought that someone was playing a practical joke. These days, not being able to retrieve an email or a piece of information on demand is no joke and one can draw reference to very real examples where failure to present a piece of properly archived information can be a VERY expensive problem.

But it’s an easy situation to get into. Business processes and content are transforming from physical and static to digital, mobile, and virtual and as the quantity of data and information used by companies grows, so does the pressure put upon the storage networks. Research has shown that data stored to disk has grown from 528PB in 2003 to a staggering 2,426PB in 2006 (CAGR 66%).

According to forensic accountants at professional services firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the average fraud case now requires analysis of more than 500,000 e-mails and electronic documents, and computer records make up over 80 per cent of the evidence. The end result is that this massive growth of digital content, e-mails, and other electronic information – combined with the threat of the scale of penalties suggested above – is forcing organisations to think about how to better manage enterprise-wide data in a more efficient and secure manner while IT systems used to create, transmit and store electronic records are subject to new found scrutiny.

Historically, IT managers have dealt with information management problems by bolting more and more hardware onto a system to deal with the expanding workload – a strategy that often results in increased costs and a reduction in efficiency. Today, companies are beginning to realise that information is at the heart of every business and that putting information to work, in real-time in order to tap its immediate value, is of maximum importance in order to improve competitiveness and create new business opportunities. This is the core value of Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) – allowing businesses to extract the maximum value from the information based on business needs, aligning IT strategy with business strategy.

To give just a few examples of how this operates ‘on the shop floor’ in a customer service environment, employees with more efficient access to customer data are in a better position to process enquiries, trouble shoot for frequently occurring problems and increase general customer satisfaction. In a sales situation, effectively managed data can lead to increased cross selling and greater effectiveness at spotting new business opportunities both from existing clients and from the general marketplace. Naturally, with these increased efficiencies comes an element of cost saving which can in turn allow investment in greater capacity as data limits continue to escalate enabling operation of the bigger capacity with the same funds as well as increasing investment in innovation or R&D.

The information that exists within any business today can be broken down into two distinct groups:

Operational Data – This type of data is regularly updated and so needs to have the highest availability and hence requires the most complex and costly infrastructure in order to store and manage it.

Reference Data – This data never changes, is (as you would expect) for reference only and as such, requires a less complex infrastructure. With this type of data growing year on year by 95%, applying effective ILM procedures here can generate the greatest cost savings and most significant ROI.

It is with regards to reference data that business can reap the most benefits through ILM processes. This is because within reference data (and as a direct result of the increasing amounts of regulation targeted at enterprises) comes Compliance Data. Reports are suggesting that in line with increasing regulatory statutes, compliance data volumes are growing by a massive 175% year on year and will make up 25% of all reference information by the end of 2006. With over 13,000 different pieces of regulation affecting enterprises worldwide and the recognition of electronic documents as evidence, effective management of information becomes a crucial strategic consideration for any business.

The benefits of ILM are most obvious in addressing compliance. Regulatory compliance mandates that companies must store, secure, recover data easily and then destroy the information once its lifecycle has ended. The foundations of ILM are found in indexing systems, providing companies with an overview of information and where it is stored. This transparency eases retention efforts and clarifies which information can be discarded and which information should be retained based on regulatory or legal requirements. Given this premise, it’s clear to see a direct connection between regulatory compliance and information lifecycle management.

So, as Europe moves towards the deadlines set for regulatory compliance, it’s not about if companies are adopting ILM solutions but more about when. Smart companies have already implemented ILM initiatives reaping significant rewards. By aligning business strategy with IT processes and making information work harder for the company, the smart companies are making cost savings, efficiencies and competitive advantage – facing the challenge of massive information growth within the enterprise head on.

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