Facing up to information overload

Recent HP research shows that the average UK employee now spends up to five weeks a year looking for lost computer files and data. Stephen Watson, Product Marketing Manager for HP StorageWorks in the UK looks at the causes of the ‘information overload’ and suggests some possible cures.

Information is a gift and a curse. It lies at the heart of today’s knowledge economy, allowing organisations to create wealth through its distribution and manipulation. No company could function without it. But in recent years the spiralling growth in the volume of information has left many organisations drowning in data and lacking an effective means of managing it.

The loss in productivity caused by data overload is reaching crisis proportions. Research firm Basex recently chose ‘information overload’ as its Problem of the Year for 2008, estimating that the annual loss to the US economy alone is $650 billion and warns that failure to solve the problem will lead to “reduced productivity and throttled innovation.”

Scaling up comes at a cost

The issue of information growth has often been tackled by simply adding new storage server capacity bringing with it serious financial implications. HP, for example, estimates that for every $1 spent on capacity, management of that capacity adds a further $3.

The costs associated with a kilowatt of electricity are also rising significantly. According to the Uptime Institute the current three-year cost of powering and cooling servers is around one-and-a-half times the cost of purchasing server hardware.

Scaling up in response to data overload also has environmental costs. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the total power consumed by servers in the US amounted to 1.2 percent of total electricity in 2005, double the figure when compared with 2000, with IT hardware and data representing the biggest national contributor to carbon emissions.

Information clutter

Some of the reasons for the massive increase in corporate data have been well cited, including the growth of e-mail and other forms of electronic communications. Perhaps more surprisingly, a recent cross-sector survey of 350 UK IT Managers commissioned by HP, revealed that up to 45% of staff store digital content on corporate networks, placing extra strain on storage requirements.

But it is not just the explosion in the volume of data that is causing an information strain – it’s the way it is organised. Nearly two thirds (62 percent) of respondents to the same survey said information was often duplicated within their organisation because it was difficult to find.

This information clutter has a negative knock on effect for IT departments. Increasingly IT managers are spending a disproportionate amount of their time fielding requests from employees trying to find basic information, rather than focusing on improving infrastructure or more strategic IT projects.

Regulatory headaches

Companies now face the added challenge of storing data in line with regulatory requirements. When first introduced, these highly complex compliance regulations created immense pressure on organisations because the specific requirements for data management were frequently not fully understood.

The rapid introduction of policies addressing data authentication, data capture, and its distribution, often led to ‘keep-or-dump’ on-the-fly decision making. Erring on the side of caution, many companies have responded by taking the short-term decision to store everything.

In the absence of effective business intelligence tools, they now find they are unable to retrieve data on demand, leading to potential issues with breaches of compliance, decisions based on poor information, and lost business opportunities. This makes independent audits difficult and time consuming to support.

Just as organisations were coming to terms with existing corporate governance legislation such as Basel II, a new set of directives are now causing widespread concern for business and IT professionals charged with the responsibility of implementing effective information management policies.

The imminent arrival of EuroSOX, a set of European Union directives on corporate governance due to start being passed into law by member states this summer, will push information management systems to new levels of sophistication.

Grasping the information nettle

Although technology is causing information overload, many forward thinking companies realise it can also offer ways to combat it. By grappling with the issue through an effective information management strategy, companies are looking to improve customer satisfaction, increase operational efficiency, and enhance overall business performance.

Next generation solutions can help ensure that information isn’t simply ‘siloed’ into ever-growing storage farms by providing data storage infrastructure and the back-up software that goes with it, complemented with business intelligence and data warehousing tools.

Using industry-leading business intelligence solutions companies can derive more value from their data, manage information more efficiently, mitigate risks and assure compliance with regulatory mandates. They can also accelerate business growth by making better, faster decisions.

Putting information to work

Information is critical for every business and with the right strategy and tools in place, its management can be simplified to make it easier to create, locate and analyse corporate data. This in turn allows staff to find the right data quickly so they can devote their time to carrying out more valuable tasks.

By embracing next generation management information tools organisations can help employees to take informed decisions and reduce data duplication, making information work harder for them – rather than having to work hard to find the right information.

HP StorageWorks is exhibiting at Storage Expo 2008 the UK’s definitive event for data storage, information and content management. Now in its 8th year, the show features a comprehensive FREE education programme and over 100 exhibitors at the National Hall, Olympia, London from 15 - 16 October 2008 www.storage-expo.com

Source: StoragePR