Home > ECM, eDiscovery, legal > Content Obesity – Part1:Diagnosis

Content Obesity – Part1:Diagnosis

Obesity: a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on health, leading to reduced life expectancy and/or increased health problems

Content Obesity: An organisational condition in which excess redundant information has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on business efficiency, leading to depleted budgets, reduced business agility and/or increased legal and compliance risks.

First of all, let me apologise to all the people who are currently suffering from obesity, or who are supporting friends and family that do. I have no intention of making fun of obese people and I have great sympathy and respect for the pain they are going through. I lost my best friend to a heart attack. He was obese.

In a recent conversation with a colleague, about Information Lifecycle Governance and Defensible Disposal, I made a casual remark about an organisation suffering from Content Obesity. I have to admit that it was an off-the-cuff remark, but it conveyed very succinctly the picture I was trying to paint. Since then, the more I think about this analogy the more sense it makes.

People are not born obese, they become obese. And they don’t become obese overnight, it’s a slow, steady process. Unless it’s addressed early, the problem grows in very predictable stages: gaining weight, being overweight, being obese, being morbidly obese, dying. Most people, however, do not want to acknowledge the problem until it is too late. They live in denial, they make excuses, they make jokes. Until it’s often too late to reverse the process.

Organisations consume and generate content at an incredible rate: IDC’s Digital Universe study (2011), predicts an information growth factor of 50x between 2010 and 2020. Just to give that figure some context: If an average grown up person would grow at the same rate, they would weigh 3.5 tons by 2020!. Studies we conducted with our own customers, puts the annual growth rate at a slightly more conservative figure of 35-40% per year, which is still significant.

We love our digital content these days, we can’t get enough!

We all create office files and our presentations are growing larger, our email rate is not slowing down (we have several accounts each), we communicate with our customers electronically more than ever before, we collaborate inside and outside the firewall, we engage in social media, we text, we document life with our mobile phones’ cameras and we use YouTube videos extensively for marketing and education. We collect and analyse blogs and conferences and twitter streams. We analyse historical transactional data and we create new predictive ones. And if collecting our own streams is not enough, we also collect those of our competitors so that we can analyse them too. Our electricity meter collects data, our car collects data, our traffic sensors collect data, our mobile phones collect data, our supermarkets collect data. We have an average of two game consoles per family (all of which connect to the internet), we watch high-definition TV, from every fixed or portable device that has a screen, our kids have mobile phones, and PSPs and DSs and laptops. We have our home computer, our work laptop, our BYOD tablet and our smart phones. Our average holiday yields over 500 pictures, all of which are 12 Megapixel. And the kids take another 500 with their camera… In fact we generate so much digital data, that we now have special ways of handling it with Big Machines that manage Big Data to give Big Insights. And that is all wonderful, and it all exploded in the last five years.

I’ll say it again: We love digital content.

Going back to my health analogy, you could say that we gorge on content. The problem is, we are now overweight with content, since most of that content has been accumulated without any particular thought of organisation or governance. So today, we can’t lose weight, we can’t clean it up because IT doesn’t know what it is, where it is, who owns it or if it’s of any use to anyone. And, frankly, because it’s far too much hassle and we have better things to do.  It’s all digital so… “storage is cheap, we’ll just buy some more storage”: A staggering 78% of respondents to another recent study, stated that their strategy for dealing with data growth was to “buy more storage”!

Newsflash: Storage is not cheap! By the time you create your high-availability, tier-1 storage with 3 generations of backup tapes and put it in a data centre, pay for electricity and air-conditioning, and pay people to manage it, it’s no longer cheap. Even if storage prices go down by 20% per year, if your data grows at 40%, you are still 20% worse off… Simple maths!

Most organisations are still in denial about the problem. The usual answer to the question “How much storage do you currently have and how much does it grow each year?” is “We don’t really know, we never measured it that way”. Well, I would argue that whoever is writing the cheque to the storage vendors every year, ought to know.

Fortunately, for large multinational organisations (banks, pharmaceuticals, energy, etc), the penny has finally dropped. Growth rates of 40%, on a storage estate of 20 Petabytes, translates to an increase of dozens of millions of storage costs per year. In an economy where IT budgets are shrinking, this is not a pleasant conversation to have with your CFO. These organisations are now self-diagnosed as Content Obese, and are desperately looking for ways to curb the growth, before they become Morbidly Obese.

And, similarly to the human disease, Content Obesity has side effects. Even if you could somehow overcome (or overlook, or sweep under the carpet…) the cost implications, it creates huge health risks for the organisation.

Firstly, it creates risks for the Business. Unruly, high volumes of content clog up processes, the arteries of the business. Content that is lost in the bulk, uncategorised and not readily available to support decision making, is slowing down the flow of information across the organisation. Content that is obsolete or outdated can create confusion and lead to incorrect decisions. Unmanaged content volumes do not lend themselves to fast changing business models, marketing innovation, shared services or better customer support. And by consuming huge amount of IT capital, they also stifle investment and innovation into new business services.

Secondly, it creates a huge Legal risk. All electronic content in the organisation, is potentially discoverable. The legal group has a duty to preserve information that is relevant to litigation. When information is abundant and not governed, the only method that the legal group has to identify and preserve it, is by notifying all people that may have access to it – custodians – asking them to protect it. This approach is inaccurate, expensive and time consuming. And when it comes to delivering that information to opposing parties or the courts, the organisation has to sift through these huge volumes of content to identify what is actually relevant, often incurring huge legal fees in the process. (Unashamed plug: If you are interested to find out more about the role of Information governance in UK civil litigation, I recommend this excellent IBM paper authored by Chris Dale, respected author of the eDisclosure Information Project)

Finally, Content Obesity creates a huge Compliance risk. Different regulations dictate that records are kept for defined periods of time. Privacy and data protection regulations, dictate that certain types of content are disposed of, after defined periods of time. Record Managers often have to comply with multiple (and often conflicting) regulations, from multiple jurisdictions, affecting hundreds of systems and millions of records. An ever-growing volume of unclassified content, means that records cannot be correctly identified, disposition schedules cannot be executed consistently and policies remain on a binder on the shelf (or in a PDF file somewhere on the intranet). Regulatory audits become impossible, wasting valuable resources and often leading to significant fines (As the regulator put it in one of many examples: “These failings were made worse by their inability to determine the areas in which the breakdown in its record keeping systems had occurred“)

So, how much of that content do organisations actually need to keep? And who has the responsibility and the right to get rid of it?

Next: Content Obesity – Part 2: Treatment

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