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ActiveNav Predictions 2021: Unstructured Data Management Takes Center Stage

vmblog 2021 prediction series 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2021.  Read them in this 13th annual series exclusive.

Unstructured Data Management Takes Center Stage

By Rich Hale, CTO, at ActiveNav

We don't always realize it, but every keystroke we make becomes a piece of data - whether that be an equation in an end of year financial Excel report or a funny cat meme to a coworker in a Slack channel. Each of these actions, multiplied thousands of times per day by the number of employees you have, leads to an exorbitant amount of data. And the scary thing is, most companies still don't know what data they have or where it's stored - especially when it comes to unstructured data, data that isn't easily searchable.  

Based on the work ActiveNav has been doing with clients leading into 2021, we predict a landslide of concerns will hit enterprises as part of their post-Covid data cleanup.  All of the work from new flexible working practices that's accumulated throughout the year will soon need to be discoverable. Managing unstructured data will prove increasingly difficult. Against that backdrop and considering the slew of compliance regulations on the horizon, below are six predictions for what awaits data management and compliance pros in 2021.

Every company is a data company. The opportunity for value creation lies within unstructured data. 

In 2021, companies will realize the value that can be created from their vast stores of accumulated data. Right now, companies collect, manage, and store massive amounts of data, but much of it is unstructured (as much as 80% of enterprise data according to Gartner) and siloed. To be able to identify expansion opportunities, organizations need to make their information accessible and useable - and this means leveraging unstructured data.

Enterprises will proactively build automated data inventories.

Smart organizations recognize the need to build persistent maps of their data to be able to respond to unexpected events - such as a breach - quickly and efficiently. Organizations that focus on truly understanding how and where their data is collected and stored have much of the battle already won. Organizations owe it to their customers to protect sensitive, personal data, no matter what regulations dictate. Increased access to large amounts of data, particularly unstructured data, means that proper governance structures need to be put in place - and it all starts with a comprehensive, always-on data inventory.

Bolting the doors is not enough. 

In 2021, organizations will need to attend to data beyond just "locking the doors" to prevent access or step egress. While this may have worked in the past, it is no longer enough. Breaches will happen; it is not a matter of if, but when. Companies of all sizes need to understand what they have, where they have it, and most importantly, do this at scale so they can invest their efforts to protect the right information and properly understand the risk and impact post-breach.

Data is [still] not the new oil.

Back in 2018 we dispelled the myth that data is the new oil, and that's going to be truer than ever in 2021. Once you use oil, it decreases in value. However, the opposite is true for data - the more you use it, the more valuable it becomes. BUT, data is only valuable if it can be accessed. Organizations are struggling to understand what data they have, and where it lives, which is limiting value creation. As a result, the need for an always-on, dynamic data map will continue to increase, with organizations looking for a scalable solution to create value and comply with evolving privacy laws.

Proper data management will become an even bigger competitive advantage.  

For the last 2 decades, the U.S. turned a blind eye toward data privacy, rejecting its impact as a fundamental human right - diametrically opposing other regions like the EU. But the pendulum has swung quickly, with global privacy laws now the norm. In 2021, data minimization (whether driven by the CCPA, CPRA, or any other regulation) will become table stakes for any information-driven, risk-aware organization.

Data stewardship will become a boardroom level conversation.

Just as data privacy has become a C-Suite discussion over the past couple of years, so too will data stewardship. Data stewardship fills a growing role as expectations of enterprise data governance gets increasingly complex. Data stewardship goes beyond management - it's a higher-level responsibility to stakeholders. It helps organizations to gain greater control over their data, understand where it's obtained, and map and use data effectively while also staying compliant.


We may not be able to fully predict the future, but we can almost certainly predict that companies that do not take an active role in mapping and understanding their data will find themselves in precarious positions, unable to respond to information events. Remember, you can't manage what you don't understand. Cheers to making 2021 the year companies get unstructured data under control.


About the Author

Rich Hale 

Rich Hale is the Chief Technology Officer of Active Navigation where he focuses on developing their market leading File Analysis software. Rich spent 16 years as a Royal Air Force Engineer Officer deployed around the world. His career in the Royal Air Force not only spanned over a decade, but also numerous countries including the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Canada. He is a product and information evangelist, with experience hard won through many years' developing information governance programs in enterprise and government agencies. Rich holds a Bachelor's Honors Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from London University, as well as a Master's in Business Administration from the British Open University.

Published Wednesday, January 20, 2021 7:55 AM by David Marshall
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