Modern-day businesses are becoming victims of ‘digital tartar’ – the accumulation of sensitive data in the nooks and crannies of file shares – which clogs up systems and leads to the increased risk of operational inefficiencies, added expenses and damage to brand reputation. In most cases, bad data hygiene is to blame.
It’s predicted that in 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet. However, less than 0.5% of all data is ever analysed and used, thereby significantly increasing the risk of digital tartar.
The business consequences of excessive data build-up
Bad digital hygiene can have severe consequences for an organisation. The more data a business stores, the more it will spend to keep it. What’s more, if an excess of sensitive data is stored, the risk of data exposure is inherently increased.
Most organisations use common passwords for simplicity. However, this can leave businesses susceptible to heightened security risks. Having a large data accumulation also increases the likelihood of loopholes, which makes a system more susceptible to cyberattacks.
Businesses can also suffer reputational damage as a result of a data breach, and this can then lead to a loss in public trust. In fact, only 17% of customers would trust a company with their personal data after it has been reported as misusing or not properly protecting customer data. It is therefore essential for businesses to regularly look at what data they are collecting and if it is necessary to hold onto or delete it.
The challenge of raising awareness
The biggest challenge lies in first communicating the problem of digital tartar to businesses. There needs to be an understanding that businesses are not immune to a build-up of data and any team within an organisation should be aware of the consequences that this can have on the wider business. Increased awareness of digital hygiene and the consequences that can ensue should encourage businesses to clean out their systems to create a healthy data environment.
A good start is for businesses to reconsider where their data is being stored, and making sure that it is GDPR compliant, with mechanisms in place to anonymise data. The penalties for GDPR non-compliance can have severe consequences on their bottom line. In 2019, British Airways was fined £183 million after a breach. These strict fines have caused a shift in awareness.
But a simple understanding of what GDPR entails doesn’t necessarily mean an organisation is completely ‘done’ when it comes to compliance. They need to have continuously evolving processes and regulations in place to keep up with changing legislation.
Striving for operational efficiency
If too many apps are left open on a phone at any one time, it will operate noticeably slower. The same applies to data. If it continually accumulates, but is rarely cleared out, it builds up to the point where it slows down a business’ operational processes. This build-up can also reduce transparency and impact insights, which can result in the wrong business decisions being made.
Most organisations don’t even know what data they have, where it is, or how much of it there is. Clearing out this data – and making sure that the leftover data is accurate and privacy compliant – can be expensive and time-consuming. By collecting the right data in the first place and undertaking regular clear-outs, businesses can avoid having to undertake an entire spring clean of their data.
Creating a healthy data environment through ‘digital flossing’
Fully eliminating a build-up of digital tartar can be an overwhelming and difficult concept for businesses, but there are simple steps that can be taken in the first instance to clear the data backlog. Although GDPR is helping businesses to address some data storage concerns, they must take additional ‘flossing’ steps to remove data build-up in the harder-to-reach areas. This involves the full documentation of the decluttering process, with a yearly audit from an external consultant to help combat the impact of digital tartar and its straining effects on a company’s budgets, resources and reputation.