“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” This quote is often attributed to Mark Twain (though no one can seem to confirm that he said it), but it remains a timely quote no matter the era. At the present, it’s easy to view our 21st century world as something completely novel—an era that has never been seen. I disagree. I find that while the circumstances have changed enough to avoid suspicion that the past is repeating itself, we’re certainly rhyming with it.
In the late 1840’s, gold was discovered in California. Everyone around the country scrambled to find the “gold in them thar hills,” and suddenly, California became a hub of trade and travel. Sure, cartoons have taught us to make fun of caricatures of old prospectors digging aimlessly in the mountains, but this was truly a game-changing time in American history.
Where does the rhyme come into the conversation? Replace gold with data. You don’t have to replace the location, you don’t have to replace the rush, and you don’t have to replace the unfathomable transformation of the world economy. Companies discovered data and have consequently rushed to gather up the data in them thar digital hills, and it has fundamentally changed the world as we know it.
Now, consider the fact that data is more valuable than gold. Suddenly the stagecoach robberies that the gold miners faced are much more dangerous-- especially when you consider that 80% of the data you've collected probably isn't even being used. In this case, data doesn't get the shiny trappings of gold. Rather, in this case, we're dealing with something darker.
"Dark Data" is defined by Gartner as "the information assets organizations collect, process and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes." This could be anything from contact information, credit card information, contracts, or any other data collected that doesn't have an immediate purpose. The magnitude of that data is hard to comprehend, and can cause all kinds of headaches in the wake of a digital robbery.
While dark data is a buzz word that certainly has a scary sound to it, that doesn't have to be the case. In fact, like gold, it can bring your business a fortune. When people think about data, thoughts often jump to simple arrangements of 1's and 0's, but dark data goes beyond that. It's unstructured, and is produced constantly. Most businesses store this data, but don't leverage it, and when a hack occurs, all that personal information can be placed in the wrong hands very quickly.
This is why you must leverage dark data, and make sure it's locked up safely. As useful as dark data can be for "bandits", it can be just as useful if not more so to your business. It's simple: use the information your customers give you. It makes you a better business, and it makes life infinitely easier for your company to sell. If the "bandits" are smart enough to pursue dark data, you should be smart enough to know how useful it is. You've got a gold mine-- you just have to open it up. You don't even have to raise a pickaxe or a panhandle.