Stopping the ROT in your unstructured data

The advent and adoption of electronic Document Management Systems has undoubtedly worked to the benefit of businesses of all sizes. The various technologies and practices that comprise a modern Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system allow businesses to cut costs and achieve operational efficiencies that, in turn, contribute to maximising profits.

That said, it could be argued that relatively inexpensive systems for the electronic storage, retrieval and utilisation of documents and data can lead to their own problems and behaviours; not least of which is the tendency of enterprises to overlook the need to periodically “spring clean” their document and data storage.

To an extent, this is understandable. When you’re not faced with the space limitations that come with physical document storage – complete with groaning shelves and overstuffed file boxes – it’s all too easy to see that sort of data management as either pointless or, at best, somebody else’s problem.

The fact is that storing unnecessary data comes with its own costs, both financial – data storage always attracts costs, and the more data you store the higher the costs – and in terms of process efficiencies, as browsing, search and business analytics tools become slower and less reliable.


It’s useful to think of the totality of this unnecessary data as “ROT”: an acronym that incorporates Redundant, Obsolete (or Outdated) and Trivial data.

This definition includes data and documentation that might be duplicated in multiple places (potentially in different versions or iterations), information that is no longer valid or relevant (this can be particularly problematic with outdated customer data, and could even lead to regulatory breaches) and trivial business data that arguably does not require long-term retention.

If you think ROT is itself a trivial issue, think again. A survey carried out at the 2012 Compliance, Governance and Oversight Counsel (CGOC) summit suggested that only 25% of stored data had current business value, 5% fell into the category of business records and 1% was retained for litigation reasons. That leaves an estimated 69% of stored data that held no direct business, regulatory or legal value.

Figures like this point to the importance of formalised information governance, and developing internal policies and procedures that facilitate the systematic disposal of unnecessary data, while ensuring compliance with external regulatory and legal demands. Consider this: do you know what percentage of your own organisation’s stored data is ROT? And who is responsible for the spring cleaning? The answers to these questions could be the key to future efficiencies and cost savings.