Delete This Article: Storing Data Could Prove Risky

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

Disagree? Fine, but come up with a better
solution. Then delete this article; you won’t
need it any more.

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