As technology evolves, the amount of data being generated across industry is growing exponentially. The introduction of cloud-based applications and rapid rise of smart mobile devices has added complexity to this, opening up a raft of challenges for businesses around storing, managing and using information in real time both today and in the future.

Data sustainability is about holding onto the value of data so that it can be used to make informed decisions in years to come. This is an issue which has been debated within the scientific community for a number of years with the National Science Foundation in the United States actually requiring research proposals to include a data management plan for the future. It has not however, been fully exploited within commercial organizations.

In fact, with the explosion of information both on and offline, it is only logical for businesses to use it to improve a company’s success and viability long term. But, doing this effectively involves having the right working practices and technologies in place. This will enable you to meet some of the following requirement for successful data sustainability.

Retain Information and Ensure its Availability

Storing data in a logical and searchable manner enables companies to retrieve it quickly and easily and analyze it, empowering them to make better, smarter and more informed business decisions. This does, however, rely on data being entered into core business systems.

If components include a structured data entry component such as a point of sales system or form-based data entry this is straight forward. If however, there is a lot of unstructured user generated data this can be more complex.

Managing text-based information like that gathered from social media, emails or presentations requires a good document management or enterprise content management system. These will enable you to profile the content you store which in turn makes searching for it a whole lot easier.

The volume of email is also a particularly important consideration as it has become the de facto workflow system for nearly every organization. Connecting your chosen document repository with your email system can be a crucial step in improving the ability to store and manage, then find critical data.

Restrict Access to and Control the Flow of Information

Bringing all business data together into a central repository allows organizations to limit access to documents and information depending on the level of security clearance an individual has. This will remove the risk of data being shared or acted on incorrectly or inappropriately and allow those with the appropriate level of clearance to glean maximum insight into business operations based on past information.

Maintain Secure Document Exchange & Ensure Version Control

Email in particular raises a number of issues around version control and document exchange as multiple people collaborate on single pieces of confidential work.

Firstly, different people can end up working on different versions of the same document, depending on the last email they read. The confusion that results from this can be significant.

Take recruitment activities. Each vacant position has numerous confidential documents, such as job specs and contracts associated with it, and these can go through multiple review cycles, with hundreds of associated emails to complicate the trail. The result of this is not only confusion for those involved but it also significantly devalues the information held within the documents themselves.

Secondly, employees have to use documents in the correct way and store them in the right place within a central hub and in line with company policies. There is no way to force employees to do this, but tools and best practice approaches should make it significantly closer to a reality. It is only by doing this that the sustainability of data will be maintained.

Meet Regulations

Compliance and regulation significantly affect which working practices an organization can viably support. With significant financial and reputational implications as a result of non-compliance, employees must be encouraged to use the tools put in place as far as possible.

From a data sustainability perspective, maintaining agreed working practices across an organization will make it significantly easier to locate and use old data as users will know what format it will be in and where it is located. In fact, for financial services organizations, this can be a regulatory requirement.

A key part to data sustainability is helping employees understand the value it brings and then encouraging them to adopt the new working practices. However if any new system or technology is not intuitive, or does not work with existing tools and solutions, like email, then you are in danger of failing to meet compliance requirements. Worse still, if your users are not storing content correctly, the goldmine of historical data may never be realized.

Image courtesy of zentilla (Shutterstock).

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading: