Data sprawl is the term used to describe the uncontrolled growth and expansion of data across multiple locations and repositories. Data sprawl is a big problem. As more and more businesses rely on technology to store and manage their data, the amount of information collected and stored continues to grow at an alarming rate, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of it all. The consequences of data sprawl can be severe. For example, it can be difficult to find important information or make timely and accurate decisions based on existing data. In addition, data sprawl can lead to security problems because it’s harder to protect data when it’s scattered all over the place. Lastly, data fragmentation leads to unwanted redundancy and replication, impacting performance and increasing costs.
You’ve probably seen data sprawl in action. For example, suppose you’re working on a project collecting information from different sources. You might find yourself querying redundantly since there’s no centralized way to broker answers. It becomes challenging to know if you are getting accurate information or missing data altogether due to unknown sources scattered across many repositories. This situation is an example of the consequences of data sprawl: needlessly repeated queries, questionable results, and “lost” data sources that can be missed entirely.
To conquer data sprawl and gain control of your information storage, you’ll need to take several steps. What follows is a summary of each step of the journey.
A data inventory is an essential step for businesses of all sizes to ensure the security and proper use and storage of their information. The first step in addressing data sprawl is to inventory all the data that is currently being collected and stored. This includes both electronic and paper-based information from both internal and external sources. You’ll potentially be dealing with data stored as electronic files, media, cloud-based systems such as Office 365 or Google Workspace, various databases, social media, and paper documents in files and binders. Once you have a complete inventory, you can start developing a plan for managing and storing the data.
This step will help assess the degree of sprawl and duplication in your whole data set. By taking stock of your company’s information, you can better understand how to protect it, where it resides, and who has access to it. Here are some tips to help you perform a business data inventory:
- Gather your team. You’ll need someone to help you collect and organize the data and someone who is familiar with the company’s security procedures.
- Create a plan. Decide what information you need to collect and how you will do so. This will likely involve reviewing computer systems and files and interviewing employees who may have access to confidential data.
- Collect the data. Using the plan created in step 2, start gathering information from across the company.
Consolidate and organize
Once you have completed your data inventory, the next step is to assess methods for consolidating and organizing this data to make it easy to use, eliminating redundancies and alleviating data sprawl. This may involve condensing and combing disparate storage locations and reorganizing data storage to make it more manageable and scalable. You may also benefit from converting some data from one type to another – an example would be scanning paper documents into digital form or converting the text they contain to electronic text via OCR.
Once you consolidate your data, organize it into a useful structure. This will allow you to find specific data quickly and compare that data to others more easily. It is critically important to organize and store this data to make it accessible and easy to use. For example, local and cloud-based file systems support folders and trees for managing files, and all modern file systems allow control over access permissions. There are many ways to organize business data, and the method you choose will depend on the size and complexity of your business. You may want to consider using a database management system (DBMS), which can help you track and access your data more quickly.
Create a system
A sound data management system can help keep your data organized and accessible, making it easier to find and use when you need it. There are many different ways to create a data management system, and the most important thing is to develop a plan that works for you and your business. Consistent implementation of good practices will go a long way toward successful data management. Some examples:
- Establish clear rules for naming files and folders. This will help keep your data organized and easy to find.
- Create a filing system that makes sense for your business. There are many different ways to do this, so find one that works best for you.
- Create a file naming convention that makes it easy to find the correct file.
- Establish clear-cut rules for how and where to store each type of data.
If you have a large volume of cloud or database data, a business intelligence (BI) tool can help you bring all of your data together in one place, so you can eliminate redundancies and make better decisions faster. BI tools can connect to various data sources, including internal databases, cloud-based applications, and social media platforms. They then present the data in visually appealing formats that are easy to understand. This allows business owners and managers to quickly identify trends and make better decisions based on accurate information.
Protect your data
Businesses of all sizes are vulnerable to data breaches, which can cause a lot of damage to the company and its customers. Data breaches can occur due to many reasons, such as hacking, malware, or simply human error.
There are many ways to protect your business data and secure your information against unauthorized access, such as encryption, password protection, restricted access, and network security. One of the most critical facets of data security is regularly backing up your data. This will help ensure that you will have a copy of it that you can restore if your data is compromised.
If you have employees, you should make sure that they know the importance of safeguarding company data and are familiar with the security measures you have in place. You should also ensure that your antivirus software is up-to-date and that the network around your data is secured.
Keeping your data repositories updated and files organized is key to maintaining an efficient workflow. By routinely checking for updates and making corrections, you can save yourself time and hassle in the long run. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Keep your files organized and named logically. This will make it easier to find what you need and avoid confusion down the road.
- Use commonly accepted formats whenever possible. This will make it easier for others to work with your data, whether they are collaborators or future you!
- Periodically check for lost files. It’s always possible that data will unintentionally be misfiled or stored in the wrong repository. Regularly auditing your data and repositories will help prevent data from leaking out of your system
It can be difficult to find what you’re looking for when a business has too much information spread out across different systems and databases. This information chaos can lead to inefficient decision-making, slower response times, and more mistakes. Consolidating and organizing business data can increase productivity and better information for decision-making. Studies have found that businesses that reduced their data sprawl saw a noticeable increase in productivity and profits thanks to improved efficiency, reduced risk, and enhanced decision-making.