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5 Strategies to Manage ROT Data

In getting ready for the next InfoGov World in San Diego this October, for the panel I have on the topic of Launching an Information Governance Program, I started writing new content on the Redundant, Obsolete, and Trivial (ROT) and the impact it has on organizations.  

As an innate data hygienist, I’m always thinking about ways to keep data I need and get rid of the data that is just taking up space. ROT data is the digital clutter that accumulates over time, taking up valuable space, slowing down systems, and complicating compliance. 

Organizations (and people too) have so much data out there in most organizations which can be an asset, but that abundance of data can also become a liability when not managed effectively.  

I wanted to share what ROT data is, why it’s a problem, and most importantly, five actionable ways you can avoid letting ROT data overrun your organization. 

What is ROT?

  • Redundant: Duplicate information that exists in multiple places, creating confusion and inefficiency. 
  • Obsolete: Outdated information that is no longer relevant, but still consumes valuable storage space.
  • Trivial: Information that doesn’t have business value and doesn’t need to be retained.

The Consequences of Ignoring ROT

Ignoring ROT is not just a matter of wasted storage space—it can have far-reaching consequences that affect various aspects of an organization. Storing redundant, obsolete, and trivial data consumes valuable storage space, and as ROT data accumulates, organizations may find themselves needing to purchase additional storage capacity, which can become a significant ongoing cost. When a company’s data repositories are cluttered with ROT, employees may struggle to find the information they need quickly. This information overload can lead to wasted time as employees sift through multiple versions of documents or irrelevant files, ultimately slowing down decision-making processes.  I call this the “Knowledge Management Nightmare”. 

Retaining unnecessary data, especially sensitive or regulated information, can expose an organization to compliance risks. For example, data privacy regulations such as GDPR and quickly expanding privacy rules require companies to only retain personal data for as long as necessary. Keeping such data beyond this period could lead to non-compliance and potential fines. The more data an organization retains, the larger the potential attack surface for cybercriminals. ROT data, if it includes sensitive information, can be a target for data breaches, and its presence increases the organization’s overall security risk. 

In the event of litigation or an audit, sifting through ROT can make the eDiscovery process more complicated and time-consuming. This not only increases the cost of eDiscovery but may also result in the inability to respond to legal requests in a timely manner. Furthermore, high-quality data is essential for accurate analytics and informed decision-making. ROT data can muddy the waters, leading to misleading analytics results that can, in turn, lead to poor business decisions. By addressing and managing ROT data proactively, organizations can avoid these pitfalls, creating a more efficient, secure, and compliant data environment.

5 Ways to Avoid ROT

1. Regular Data Audits 

  • Conduct regular reviews of your data to identify ROT. This involves scanning your storage locations and identifying files that are duplicated, outdated, or unnecessary. 
  • Tools like data mapping software can automate this process, making it easier to spot ROT data. 

2. Implement a Data Retention Policy 

  • Establish clear guidelines for how long different types of data should be retained and when they should be deleted or archived. 
  • Ensure this policy is communicated to all staff and is enforced consistently. 

3. Educate and Train Your Staff 

  • Staff are on the front lines of data creation and management. Train them to recognize ROT data and understand the company’s data retention policies. 
  • Regular training sessions and reminders can help to keep these practices top of mind. 

4. Utilize Technology Solutions 

  • Invest in tools that can help automate the identification and management of ROT data.  
  • Data classification tools, auto-archiving features, and intelligent data management solutions can be invaluable. 

5. Regularly Review and Update Your Approach 

  • The digital landscape is constantly evolving, and your approach to managing ROT data should evolve with it. 
  • Regularly revisit your data retention policies and tools to ensure they are still effective and aligned with current needs and technologies. 

Wrapping Up

Dealing with ROT data is not a one-time task—it is an ongoing process that requires attention and diligence. By taking proactive steps, such as conducting regular data audits, implementing and enforcing a data retention policy, educating staff, utilizing technology solutions, and continually reviewing and updating your approach, you can keep ROT data in check. This not only helps to reduce costs and improve efficiency but also ensures that your organization is operating in a compliant and risk-reduced manner. 

There you have it – my take on the pesky problem of ROT and some tried-and-true strategies to keep it at bay. Remember, taming your data doesn’t have to be a Herculean task; it’s all about consistent, thoughtful steps. Hey, if I can be a self-proclaimed ‘data hygienist,’ so can you!  

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you faced a ROT nightmare of your own? Maybe you’ve got a killer tip for keeping data spick and span? Drop a comment below or shoot me a message. Let’s keep this conversation going and learn from each other. Until next time, happy data cleaning!