I might need it some day 

The third drawer in the kitchen. That shirt that cost a bomb but never feels right on. That book that you will read next holidays. A set of project documents languishing on D drive.

Sound familiar?

It seems to be human nature to collect things such as kitchen gadgets, shirts and books. Information and data are no different. Every organisation has data sets and information that are unmanaged, kept just because no-one knows what to do with them. This type of data and information can be the undoing of strategies, architectures and systems because it’s so hard to decide where they fit and to get stakeholders to agree on a course of action.

Below I’ve gathered the catch phrases that we hear all the time, as well as the approach GWI takes to overcome them.

It took a long time / cost lots to collect this data

Data that cost a lot to obtain (either in monetary or time value) can be hard to let go of, especially if it helped make an important decision. But does the data have any value now? Is it relevant given how different your organisation is, its market, employees and technology are? Would a new starter be able to apply the data without historical knowledge? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’ or begins with, ‘Well, maybe if …’, you most likely have a data set that can be retired.

We’ve always produced that report in this format

Just because the report has always been there doesn’t mean it needs to be replicated. What’s the report being used for (is it being used)? Asking users to show you how the report is used during their activities is a great way to sort the useful reports from those that are completed because someone forgot to say they didn’t need it anymore.

Not all reports need improvement. But many can do with a facelift, or at the very least a transformation from a static, printed Excel page to an interactive dashboard or graphic.

I can’t sign off on that

There’s a general reluctance in many organisations to take ownership of data and information, especially if it wasn’t created by the nominated owner or their team. The same goes for the decision to retire, archive or delete information (After all, storage is cheap, right?).

Unlike the photocopier, data and information assets are intangible and sometimes it can be weeks or months after they are retired that you find out who relied on them, and for what. The key to gaining agreement to exclude, ignore or delete data from many projects is to keep escalating until you have a decision – and then write it down and get agreement on the approach, so that you don’t have to go back for approval every time.

How many old project folders contain documents relating to systems that have been replaced, yet are kept because no one knows who can authorise their deletion?

I just don’t trust them

Lack of trust is a barrier to effectively managing data and information. Paper copies, keeping local versions of data, ‘re-running the numbers’ all communicate that there has been a breakdown in trust between individuals, teams or business units.

The key to building trust? Clear communication of the good AND bad news and active listening, as well as time. Trust takes time to build, and rushing can do more damage than good.

I guess that could work …

The bottom line? We all keep information and data we don’t need. But by critically examining what we are keeping, as well our motivations, we can keep the digital hoard at bay and free up space and time for the things that matter – effective and evidence-led decisions.

Dr Vanessa Douglas-Savage