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File analysis, encryption and management of unstructured data

“When less time is spent trying to find the right information, there is less risk of using outdated data in executing tasks…” - Ken Wessels, Meniko Records Management.

Johannesburg, 15 Mar 2022
Ken Wessels, Operations Director, Meniko Records Management.
Ken Wessels, Operations Director, Meniko Records Management.

In a data-driven world, information is an organisation’s most important asset. Companies are collecting more data than ever before, which is why protecting this information is critical.

While enterprise data can provide businesses with much-needed insights required for planning and sustainability; new, smarter solutions are required to meet mounting data management requirements.

Of course, not all data is created equally. While structured data is more visible (and therefore easier to manage and protect), unstructured data can present a challenge. According to Gartner, leveraging unstructured data is a huge untapped resource that has the potential to create a competitive advantage for companies that can figure out how to use it.

When it comes to file analysis, encryption and management of unstructured data, however, “understanding what unstructured data exists, both with respect to content and volumes, and where it is located, is important,” says Ken Wessels, Meniko Records Management’s operations director. “Business must be able to analyse, secure and manage across all storage platforms to ensure ‘silos’ are not managed independently.” Over and above finding all unstructured data across all repositories, it’s important to understand unstructured data within context. According to Wessels, the encryption of files should not be related to a platform but rather on the data itself in order to protect personal information, irrespective of whether it is at rest or in transit, in the cloud or on-premises, or solution-based.

“In order to secure personal information, you have to know where it is, ensure the correct access and permissions are applied and that the information is governed as well as aligned to regulatory requirements,” adds Wessels. Unstructured data is notoriously difficult to discover and classify due to its format. “Often tools like OCR are required. Unstructured data can be in a variety of formats, such as PDF files, Microsoft Office applications, e-mails, video, audio and text files. When more storage is required, there’s a financial impact to consider.”

One of the biggest challenges businesses face today is unstructured data lifecycle management. To stay viable and thrive in a rapidly-changing environment, organisations need to consider the full lifecycle of data.

“How long should data be kept?” asks Wessels. “Different data lifecycles apply to different data and must be aligned with legislative requirements in conjunction with business requirements.”

In other words, information may not be kept longer than what is stipulated by regulatory requirements unless there are compelling, documented and approved reasons. “By either retaining information too long, or disposing of it too quickly, legal and reputational risk is jeopardised. Storing information longer than required has a financial impact too - especially in relation to unstructured data, which requires vast amount of storage.”

An information lifecycle management (ILM) solution can help organisations by moving, compressing or deleting archived data, using analytics to enhance business value and recognising and eliminating redundant, outdated or trivial (ROT). “There are operational cost benefits that come with improved efficiency and productivity. When less time is spent trying to find the right information, there is less risk of using outdated data in executing tasks,” says Wessels. “By removing duplicates and redundant copies and securing corporate records prior to classification, businesses should be able to manage where data resides.”

Data management is not only about avoiding fines, but ensuring a company has the right tools, systems and processes in place that support a holistic approach to the management and governance of information. An ILM solution should integrate the archiving of all forms of data, including electronic communications such as e-mail, social media messaging, instant messaging and mobile device content. “Moving corporate records for long-term preservation, for example, to a governance-based corporate records management solution can help to reduce risk, complexity and cost across the enterprise,” adds Wessels.

Wessels suggests creating a long-term information management road map, which relies on implementing existing comprehensive solutions rather than custom development. “Based on how data is created, ingested or received, it may at any time land and remain on various platforms with different functionality and capability to secure data,” he says. “Data, however, needs to have the same security applied across the board.”

A good records management system (RMS) should take an automated, secure and analytical approach to the management of information. “It should also have built-in support for a wide range of regulations and privacy requirements such as GDPR, POPIA, Dodd-Frank, FDA Title 21 and other governmental regulations,” says Wessels. “Organisations with significant volumes of sensitive (PII) or high-value (IP) data need to be able to secure information that is not only important to their business, but also their customers.”