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Data Hoarding: How To Stop

Hoarding information, or storing enterprise data in the wrong places, can open your company to legal liability. But culture change won't be easy.

5 Big Wishes For Big Data Deployments
5 Big Wishes For Big Data Deployments
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Data management is a never-ending struggle for enterprises, particularly when employees store work data in personal accounts on cloud storage services. This so-called data leakage, combined with the problem of data hoarding inside the enterprise firewall, can spell trouble for organizations, especially in legal matters.

According to Kevin Cochrane, chief marketing officer of OpenText, a Waterloo, Ontario-based provider of enterprise information management (EIM) software, every source of enterprise content should be completely under management's control, and hoarding must be disallowed.

Increasingly, however, that's not the case. "People are losing control of their information, and employees are starting to save all of their enterprise information elsewhere," said Cochrane in a phone interview with InformationWeek.

So what should enterprises do? "They need to wake up and take a look at all the sources of information that people are hoarding, and where they're hoarding them," Cochrane advised.

[ Do you know what data to analyze, what to back up and what to dump? Don't Confuse Big Data With Storage. ]

The problem of saving too much information -- a growing issue in the era of big data -- can come back and bite an organization during the discovery phase of a lawsuit, for instance.

One of OpenText's customers is pipeline transport company Enbridge, which operates in a highly litigious industry. It's a prime example of an organization that must keep every piece of digital content under corporate control, Cochrane said.

"When a lawsuit does occur, discovery is key," he noted. Companies "need to ensure they have only those records necessary to defend themselves against a lawsuit, and absolutely nothing more."

Implementing such a strategy means two things: data hoarding is not allowed, and all work-related emails, documents and other digital information must be stored inside the enterprise firewall. Establishing and enforcing such a policy can prove challenging, however, particularly when it requires employee behavioral changes.

Enbridge turned to OpenText's EIM software to ensure compliance. "They had to drive a program of change, to make sure that people understood that if a piece of information wasn't critical to making a decision, it needed to be removed," said Cochrane.

The policy essentially requires employees to decide whether each piece of digital information they receive is worth saving or not. If it's worth saving, it goes in "Folder A." If not, "Folder B."

"Just because you like that presentation, just because you had a fond memory of that email you received, that doesn't cut it in today's world," Cochrane said. "If it was truly insightful information, and someone reviewed it in a meeting, and a decision was made based on that, then it needs to go in Folder A, which means it gets classified."

But what if you take no action? Well, the information goes away permanently. "By default, if you do nothing, everything will get wiped clean," added Cochrane.

There can be no exceptions to this rule. It's important that everybody adheres to this policy, even the corporate chiefs in the C-suite.

"All email that hasn't been declared is gone. It can't be found on any disk, anywhere, even if you get a forensic specialist," said Cochrane. "And that's how you change the culture of a company. Make sure it's Job #1. It's enforced in the C-suite ... and everyone is compliant. And you've got to make sure the policies and procedures are iron-clad, and are well-understood by everybody."

Once the technology component is in place, the biggest challenge to implementing such a system is the organization's culture, Cochrane noted.

"Probably today you sent a number of emails, and traded a couple of documents that are sitting on your desktop," he said. "You're created critical information that you're not necessarily declaring as being a record or not."

Certainly, the OpenText solution isn't the only way to solve the problem of data hoarding and leakage, but it is an intriguing -- if somewhat draconian -- solution.

So what's it going to be: Folder A or Folder B?

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