Turning on the Lights in a Dark (Data) Room


Turning on the Lights in a Dark (Data) Room

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By Robert Gerchen


At breakneck speed, businesses and individuals are amassing huge volumes of disparate and obsolete data—data that has long gone “dark” within an organization.

Dark data is the neglected data accumulated by an organization during regular business activities—the aging information, untouched archives, ancient web log files, old records of email correspondence. This data is intermingled with highly valuable and sometimes sensitive business information, too. It usually holds little value on its own, and for many organizations it is too costly for an organization to access, compile, analyze, and manage the data’s retention. For many organizations, it seems easiest to allow the data to amass in the shadowy corner of their IT infrastructure. However, when corporations shine a light on the dark data abyss, unused data can be very illuminating.


At its core, dark data can present significant risk. Most legal professionals who have responded to a legal or regulatory action have succumbed to the costly pains of trudging through small percentages of antiquated data amongst huge data stores. Notwithstanding such significant risks, dark data presents noteworthy opportunity costs for organizations. For example, reports run from accounting systems about company transactions alone may seem like benign business activity. But what if those reports were emailed to a Gmail account, downloaded to a USB drive, or uploaded to a website? When sources of transactional data like file names, network activity, local computer access, or web history are cross referenced, powerful corollaries can be derived to protect your organization. While this type of intelligence might not lead to an earth-shattering money laundering investigation, it does not hurt to double check activity that might seem questionable. Recognizing how to utilize dark data can allow an organization to prevent, detect, and defend against internal and external threats, from spotting internal fraud to harnessing information and gaining an advantage in the market.

Growing contingents of businesses are leveraging great information for marketing and sales. But how many are using data to mitigate or detect risk? While some organizations are letting their data gather dust in the dark, others have focused an information governance spotlight on their once-dark data to extrapolate value from overlooked data and uncovering substantial intelligence. For example, by monitoring file downloads to USB connected devices, an organization can prevent losing sensitive data. Conversely, corporations that forgo tapping into unused data may be sacrificing value and risk, becoming less efficient and relevant than their competitors.


Unfortunately, shining the light on dark data is not as simple as flipping a switch. A few steps are essential to capitalizing on dark data. First, begin by prioritizing business concerns and risks to establish a starting point for the projects to follow. Next, aim for one project per period (quarterly, semi-annually, or yearly) to focus on your concerns and the data you can use to manage them. Leverage people, processes, and technology, and understand how to profile the data that is usable to create actionable business and legal intelligence. Identify easy wins when possible, especially if low-cost solutions can securely advance high-risk objectives. Of course, document the process should litigation ever loom on the horizon.

There isn’t a single existing technology solution today that can thoroughly illuminate all the dark data and automatically harvest its value. That said, with careful forethought and perseverance, corporations can make unwieldy dark data far more comprehendible, less risky, and just a little brighter.

About the Author

Tom Barce (thomas.barce@krollontrack.com) is the Director of Consulting Services for Kroll Ontrack. Mr. Barce brings over 18 years of experience in directing information management, electronic discovery, and litigation support initiatives. He is accustomed to delivering strategic vision, consultative services, and project management expertise. He has extensive experience in responding to complex electronic discovery demands in numerous litigation and regulatory matters. Through his experience and vision, he strives to continually elevate our community to a higher state of “information intelligence.”

Tom recently spoke on the topic of dark data at the monthly meeting of the ARMA Metro NYC Chapter.

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