Many of us spend a large amount of time using computers and we tend to download data – such as files, photographs, videos, and emails – saving them either on company computers or our own devices. Unsurprisingly, Singaporeans have adopted a 'save for a rainy day' way of thinking and we don't stop to consider if the information we safeguard is ever 'too much'.
In a recent study1 commissioned by Veritas – which sampled 10,022 global office professionals and IT decision makers (ITDMs) with 1,000 respondents from Singapore – we took a hard look at how individuals manage data. Over two-thirds (70%) of Singapore office professionals surveyed admit they are digital hoarders – this is significantly more than office professionals globally (62%).
The findings indicate that local employees struggle to determine if data has long-term importance or value. As a result, 47% of them are afraid they will eventually need to refer to the data again and they are not sure which files should be kept or deleted.
The findings reflect that digital hoarding behaviour is fairly common. For many respondents, hoarding verges on an addiction and they are willing to do the unexpected – Close to half (45%) would rather get rid of all their clothes than their digital files while 37% would rather work weekends for three months than get rid of all their digital files.
Paying close attention to our digital closets
Though it might be tough to imagine, nearly one in three (32%) digital hoarding office professionals in Singapore have never followed through on a plan to delete old files, reinforcing the notion that we should save data in times of need, even though we might never use it again. Little do they realise that without the necessary clean-up, they are exposing themselves and the organisations they work for to various compliance-related and security risks. This is especially alarming and worrisome for Singapore, as we work towards our vision to become the world's first Smart Nation2.
The issue starts with local companies, as both the scale of the problem as well as the details of the files retained within company networks seem to be overlooked. On average, 73% of Singapore office professionals and 91% of ITDMs have admitted to saving files deemed 'harmful' to their organisations, significantly more than the global average of 62% and 83% respectively.
Hoarded files that could be detrimental include unencrypted personnel records, job applications to other companies, unencrypted company secrets, and embarrassing employee correspondence. Many ITDMs in Singapore have expressed concerns regarding the negative consequences of data hoarding at work. 86% of them believe that the amount of data residing within their company networks would increase the time it takes to respond to a data breach.
The issues with data hoarding does not end with an open door to various security issues. If not dealt with properly, data hoarding can slow down workflow, affect productivity, and even reinforce negative perceptions. In fact, 57% of office professionals in Singapore admit that they wouldn’t trust a data hoarder to turn in a project on time.
In order to deal with the digital hoarding problem, ITDMs need to receive adequate amount of support to ensure proper measures are in place to assist with clean-up. Whilst 76% of them feel that digital hoarding is one of the biggest IT problems at their company, 86% perceive a lack of organisational support – that non-IT executives don't understand how big of a problem it can be.
Doing the digital clean-up
Despite the current circumstances in most local organisations, it is encouraging to note that 75% of ITDMs are more concerned about digital hoarding now than they were a year ago. This signals a positive step towards unclogging their networks with unnecessary data. This is important as more companies embrace the concept of Internet of Things (IoT) and add many more entry points that generate both structured and unstructured data.
Before the expected IoT data deluge, companies should update their data policies early and implement more stringent checks, forcing employees to regularly review the usefulness of data stored. Right now, very few local companies are doing this. Thus Singapore companies have, on average, 53% of dark data where its contents are unknown, 38% of redundant or obsolete data, and only 9% of clean data3.
It is clear – to address information management challenges, companies face not only a data challenge, but also a user challenge. For local businesses to achieve greater efficiency, we need to have the right data policies, people, as well as technology in place to solve the challenges associated with increased data risks and massive data growth.
1The Veritas Data Hoarding Survey was conducted by Wakefield Research, via an email invitation and an online survey, among the following: (a) a minimum of 500 office professionals and a minimum of 500 IT decision makers in the US, UK, France, Germany, China, Singapore, Japan and Australia and (b) a minimum of 200 office professionals and a minimum of 200 IT decision makers in Canada, Brazil, India, Hong Kong and Korea.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Victor has more than 30 years of experience in pan-regional leadership roles with companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, and Veritas. A graduate from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Science, he now manages the daily operations of Veritas in the Asia South Region.