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Understanding Dark Data and its Risks

If you’ve never heard the words “dark data” before, they can conjure some pretty ominous or sinister thoughts. And while it may not be all that scary in reality, the topic warrants serious consideration. Dark data can pose tremendous risks and challenges for businesses across industries. 

But what is dark data? And what risks does it pose for your organization?

Let’s start by understanding it.

What is Dark Data?

If you’re a business that uses any type of technology, you’re likely sitting on an enormous amount of unstructured – and highly valuable – data. This is your dark data.

As Gartner puts it, dark data is the information assets organizations collect, process and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes (like analytics and business relationships, for example).

Isaac Sacolick defined it in even simpler terms: “Dark data is usually defined as data that is kept “just in case” but hasn’t (so far) found a proper usage.”

According to recent estimates, approximately 90 percent of companies’ data is dark. That’s an astonishing amount of information that hasn’t been analyzed or leveraged to the benefit of the business. 

Understanding the concept is one thing, but why is this something you should be concerned about anyway? What makes dark data so risky for organizations? 

The Risks of Dark Data

The biggest danger of dark data is the compliance and legal risks organizations take by not knowing and being able to locate information across their entire ecosystem. 

As PWC notes, dark data used to be an accepted part of everyday business, with no limitations on how long organizations could store data. That all changed with regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union (EU) and other data privacy laws. If exposed, any dark data covered by one of these mandates or regulations could lead to legal or financial liability.

Dark data is also a security risk for organizations. If as much as 90% of your organization’s data is unstructured, how much of that information contains proprietary or sensitive information about your business? If you cannot locate or manage that data, is it really secure? 

The short answer is no.

The simple truth is your employees are human, and humans make mistakes. Inadvertent disclosure of information has the potential to adversely affect the bottom line or even compromise important business activities and relationships.

And beyond the compliance and legal risks, this hidden data contains valuable insights just waiting to be unlocked and utilized. 

So how can your organization understand your dark data and leverage it for better business decisions, especially as it continues to grow at an exponential rate

Mitigating the Risks of Dark Data

Mitigating the risks dark data poses and transforming it into an asset can be intimidating. But by taking the time to analyze your organization’s needs, examining all your options, and developing a strategy, it is possible to get a grip on your dark data. 

The best thing you can do to address your dark data problem is to locate and understand what data you have. By shining a spotlight on your dark data, your organization will be well-positioned to reduce risk, improve performance, and generate insights to accelerate your business growth. 

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