You know that vile slogan, "Kill them all; let God sort them out?" In IT, we have a similar attitude: "Collect it all; let marketing sort it out." We can't keep increasing the amount of customer data we collect by 51 percent a year, as our October Customer Strategies Survey found we've been doing. That approach to data has got to go, and we need a take-charge attitude to make it go.
For years, companies struggled to feed their hunger for information about customers, competitors, markets and finances. Over time, IT has come up with more ways to provide more information, and companies have hoarded as much of that information as they could. Today, though, these corporate gluttons have more data than they can digest; it's weighing them down and putting them at risk for several potentially fatal diseases.
Harming customers, clients and ultimately their organizations by leaking personal information is the obvious one. Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, personal identifiers and contact information frequently bite the hand that holds them. Another is the very high cost of gathering, entering, cleaning, processing, manipulating, synchronizing, storing, securing and ensuring the availability of all that data. Virtualization helps, but it's not sufficient. If we only use 43 percent of customer data to understand customers, as our Customer Strategies Survey shows, why collect so much? As Sun Microsystems Chief Privacy Officer Michelle Dennedy recently and sensibly told me, "Why collect information that can only cause us pain?"
Piling on information doesn't make us smarter. Wharton marketing professor Peter Fader explained the folly of collecting unnecessary consumer information, in our June interview: "Additional data can actually harm you because you're going to start capturing random, quirky, idiosyncratic things that aren't related to the true underlying propensities... Data on demographics, psychographics, socioeconomics and even consumer attitudes can not only waste servers and storage space but can actually make the models [used to forecast customer behavior] perform worse." We must stop storing sensitive information.
We must stop collecting information that confuses instead of clarifies. We must break our addiction. And while information governance and information lifecycle management are part of the solution, they're not enough. CEOs: Set up an executive-level task force to identify and eliminate information that fails the need-to-have/need-to-store test. Question, prod and push your management team. Embrace tough international data privacy standards. Set an example by simplifying your own information needs. Executives: Do a risk/return analysis of the information for which your organization is responsible. If no one will take responsibility for the data, delete it. CIOs: Design an IT and information architecture to minimize storage and data duplication, especially on loss-prone laptops. Get serious about security awareness training.
Disagree? Fine, but come up with a better solution. Then delete this article; you won't need it any more.