Data Never Dies

One of the things that have become painfully obvious over the last few years is that data never dies. Once you create some data, it lives forever -- there are actually many many businesses devoted to providing an environment in which data does die because it’s so commonplace that data is going to live forever.

True, in theory, you can delete data from the cloud and from every place that it ever existed and then it will either become impossible or extremely difficult to recover, but by and large, that sort of thing doesn’t happen. More often than not our data persists, stored away where it is, automatically saved by your computer and living in all sorts of places that you never imagined.

So the question we have to ask ourselves is pretty straightforward: what do we need to be aware of as far as this concept is concerned, and what are the opportunities?

The “beware of” part is easy. First off, every single file has a trail of exhaust that is so magnificent and so pervasive that it is really scary. The cloud lives forever and so many different files and versions and copies and partial copies of everything exist. Don’t believe me? Check your downloads folder. Data is being collected at the rate that is so fast and growing so rapidly that we will never catch up as a society. And that’s OK, but we need to be aware of the fact that everything we do produces a digital footprint. In situations where we’re often talking about dealing with sensitive data, information about race or gender ethnicity, it’s doubly important.

Sensitive data, sensitive information: these things are necessary. We need them. They are crucial tools for us to establish a more equitable and fair and open and inclusive society.

So, there’s not a lot we can really do to prevent this situation. You can establish data management protocols. You can follow them religiously. You can be extremely careful. You can educate and inform everybody within your organization or every partner of yours about your policies. But at the end of the day, we are dealing with combustible materials. And there’s not a lot that we can do to prevent them from being combustible. And if they start being combustible they lose all their value.

In terms of the opportunity, though, there’s a lot that we can do. First, we can do a lot of cleanup. The fact that everything is producing data all the time and data is just sitting there means that there is a ton of data that’s as yet sorted. As yet leveraged. Just kind of sitting there, collecting virtual dust, unused, unevaluated, lacking in value.

One of our clients had collected exit surveys from departing employees for years. They never even really downloaded the results from SurveyMonkey. This data was just sitting there. For years. All the answers that they were looking for in terms of why employees were leaving and what they might do better on behalf of their employees, they had that information already. And yet they hadn’t done anything with it.

What we found, however, with that the data hadn’t died. It was sitting right where it was left. It was still valuable. Maybe less so, in the sense that a lot of employees had left during the time the data was sitting on the shelf, and some of them might have stuck around or had a better experience had that data been accessed. But it was still definitely valuable. And if you look at everything as a question as to what you are going to do from now until the future, then you really do you have an opportunity. It’s never too late to start.

The other way that this is an opportunity is that it reminds you to stick to your values. One of our core values that Holistic is the protection of individual anonymity and the second core value is providing intense transparency for organizations and their employees. The fact that data never dies allows us a chance to do both of these. Because we have to be so concerned about individual anonymity within the context of data, the first step of our data management protocol is to eliminate any individual identifying characteristics from our end of the system. As a result, we’re able to affirm our values for our clients, but we’re also protecting ourselves because we are immediately illuminating this type of data, which is the best that we can do right now.

The transparency piece is even more powerful. Transparency is a huge part of the employee experience, and lack of transparency, specifically around what information is being collected and how plagues many organizations. What we are able to do is to foster increased transparency by having a focus on reducing the amount of data that is being kept in the dark, is being stored without being used, the inefficiency, the shadiness. None of that exists in our system because we’re so focused on the inevitability of the data that it helps us maintain our values.

So these are some things to think about and keep in mind if you evaluate data. It never dies. It lives forever. Its value? That’s up to you.