How Data Classification Can Combat Data Sprawl & Enhance Efficiency

CJ Hurd
4 min read
June 4, 2024 at 11:00 AM

Data sprawl is a pervasive issue in modern organizations, characterized by the uncontrolled and often chaotic growth of data across various systems and storage solutions. As businesses accumulate vast amounts of data, the challenges of managing, securing, and utilizing this information effectively become increasingly complex. Understanding and addressing data sprawl is crucial for maintaining operational efficiency, regulatory compliance, and overall data integrity in any organization.

What is Data Sprawl?

Data sprawl refers to the widespread uncontrolled and often unmanageable growth of data within an organization. Think of it like a garage: for many of us, the garage becomes a place where we stash random items — lawn care tools, seasonal decorations, boxes, bins, tool sets, extra boxes of soda that we really did not need (that deal was just too good to pass up!), a car if it will fit, etc. It tends to be the epitome of “out of sight, out of mind” and unless the organization’s game is championship-level and on-point, it eventually turns into a complete mess. We tell ourselves that this weekend we will clean out the garage, but then when we finally look and are faced with the dreaded questions:

  • Where do I start?
  • What is even in here?
  • When did I buy that bike?
  • How in the world do I organize all of this?
  • What can I throw away?
  • And most importantly: how do I keep it from getting like this again?

The ultimate result is often simply acquiring more storage. It is like deciding that going through the garage is deemed to be too much of a quagmire and instead renting several storage units to handle the garage’s overflow. It seems illogical, right? Why pay for extra storage space simply because cleaning out the existing storage space seems overwhelming? The costs will build up, and the issues that accompany organizing that space will build up as well — what items are in which storage space? Are they spread across several different spaces? As storage increases, the issues compound.

Understanding Data Accumulation

As weird as it sounds, this mirrors every business’ data problem. Data accumulation is exploding, and Gartner predicts that by 2026, organizations will triple their unstructured data capacity as compared to 2023. As data accumulates, businesses face numerous potential issues, including efficiency, security, compliance, and, most significantly, financial concerns. Pair that with operational, regulatory, and legal requirements, and it is easy to see how companies can get trapped in decision paralysis.

This is where data classification can save the day (and bank balance). So, what is data classification? Data classification is the process of organizing data into categories for its most effective and efficient use. This practice is crucial in various domains, including data management, information security, and compliance:

  • Data Protection: Identifying and categorizing data helps in applying appropriate security measures to protect sensitive information from unauthorized access and breaches.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Many industries are subject to regulations that mandate how data, especially personal and sensitive information, should be handled. Data classification helps ensure compliance with these regulations.
  • Efficient Data Management: Properly classified data can be more easily managed, retrieved, and used, improving overall efficiency and reducing the risk of data loss or mismanagement.
  • Risk Management: By understanding the nature of the data, organizations can better assess risks and implement mitigation strategies.

As data classification initiatives are developed, companies can segregate their data into distinct categories, which then allows them to apply labels to that data. These labels mean that the company can be continuously apprised of what data they have and where it is located. This helps organizations make decisions on what data requires more strict security and supervision and what data is more inconsequential and may not require as many resources to maintain.

Data Modeling Advantages

Data modeling can make classification even more powerful by giving further insights into the data itself, such as how much of the total data landscape consists of duplicative data, outdated data, and junk data. These are easy candidates for deletion and can drastically decrease the amount of storage an organization needs — saving money as well as resources in the form of effort to maintain and secure that data.

It does not stop there! Modeling can also help determine what data is likely to be particularly sensitive and will require more specialized handling. Going back to the garage example, let us say that some of the storage is occupied by what amounts to a personal filing system, complete with documents that have the owner’s confidential information. That owner is going to want to keep those items close, in a spot where they have the most control over what happens to them. Knowing that they want to keep that data under closer supervision, they might instead elect to throw out some old Halloween decorations that they do not really use anymore. If they are concerned that those decorations might someday find a place in the yard once more, they can elect to move those out to low-cost storage — no sense in paying for a temperature-controlled unit if nothing in there requires that kind of special handling.

Achieving Effective Data Classification

As you can imagine, the hardest part is getting started, and the hardest part of getting started is knowing what data you have. Compass IT Compliance can help jumpstart that process through our Insights program. We scan your data to determine what you have and where it is located, utilizing metadata to indicate what is redundant, obsolete, trivial, and potentially sensitive. Our Actions program allows you to take immediate action on that data, whether that action is deleting or tiering that data.

These programs are powered by Classify360, a powerful platform that can allow you to dive even deeper into your data by running a content scan and utilizing content analysis to truly know what data you have. Unlike other data governance products on the market, Classify360 manages all data in place — meaning no copies are created — and streamlines the data classification process by allowing you to search, group, and label data as well as perform remedial actions such as deleting, migrating, and securing your data all in one easy-to-use platform. If you are ready to get started with data classification, schedule a call with one of our representatives today!

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