Don’t you hate those minimalist house interiors where everything is white, spotless and obsessively tidy? Where do they put the junk mail, their dirty shoes and wet umbrellas? And what about the family photo albums, the stacks of bank and insurance documents, wills, car insurance, old Christmas cards and address books? People who live in those types of places are super organised. Not for them the boxes labelled ‘loft’ that move from house to house never being opened or the piles of old paperwork left over from when they got their first pension. They have a system for storing all this stuff and organisation is the key.
Storing up trouble

Companies with old, mammoth data stores need to adopt the same approach. In the past, the attitude – partly driven by storage suppliers, of course – has been to store everything ‘just in case’ but little was done to classify data and define how valuable it was to an organisation.

It is no accident that the organisations that really think about their data management reap the benefits. HSBC has always followed a strict data discipline that means, unusually in financial services, its customers only have one identifying number no matter how many different accounts they have and this has produced dividends.

Supermarket giant, Tesco, also has a slick approach to its data management and comfortably tracks around 12 million purchases every week, targeting its customers very effectively as a result.

But for many companies, data management has been more haphazard, with storage silos, like loft boxes, sitting there overlooked and unloved in their datacentre attic.

For most people clearing out their attics means throwing away worthless tat. For the lucky few it can mean finding a valuable antique that has been forgotten about. Corporate data storage and records management is similar.

The majority of records and data held have little value or are even worthless. Some may have to be kept for legal requirements but on the whole a lot of the data held will be out of date anyway – customers who have moved, died or changed their names; transactions for products which are no longer produced; or defunct records from an old company that disappeared 10 years ago.

Sitting on a goldmine

But there may be some information in there with business value, if only it was easily accessible and recognisable. This is where the clean tidy minimalist approach to data management comes in handy. If the data is well organised in a hybrid system with the most valuable data most accessible, it can have significant business value.

Some companies realise this and are upping their use of business intelligence and effective data storage strategies as a result.

With the amount of data generated set to increase in massive amounts for the foreseeable future, it has to be the right time to tackle this unpleasant clear out.

Newer organisations, like the online retailers and start-ups, are the shiny white minimalists who have never had a loft, never mind filling it with a load of worthless junk. You may hate that minimalist thing and wonder where to file your tax returns but, in terms of data management, it is the only way forward.