Gartner defines dark data as the information assets organizations collect, process, and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes. But figuring out how to analyze dark data brings major potential for any organization. Here’s how to start unlocking this potential.

A small town in Sweden had a familiar strategy for clearing roads blocked by snow: first, clear the snow from major arteries that feed into the city first, and then clear more rural roads later. This seemed logical to city planners since it matched the way they used the roads. After all, they wanted clear roads for their commute into work.

Meanwhile, a different government sector was completing a study about driving patterns using a different dataset. A research group studying the driving patterns of men and women found that while men tend to commute to and from work in the city, women’s driving patterns were much different. Results showed that women tended to spend more time running errands and visiting family, utilizing roads that are not main arteries into the city. The study also showed that healthcare costs associated with accidents involving women during the winter months were exponentially higher than that of men.

Seeing correlation, the city council altered their road clearing strategy by clearing rural roads first. The result: the savings the city made on healthcare costs exceeded the costs associated with changing their snow clearing process.1

Dark Data Discovery

In the above example, female travel patterns were the unexplored data points, or, dark data. Dark data can be data that you collect but simply don’t use, or it can be data that is unfound or hidden. The value of dark data is often overlooked because we get stuck in our way of doing things. Decisions made through familiarity and habit inherently block insight that could be right in front of us. To overcome this, we should constantly introduce fresh perspective.

These Analytics8 customers unearthed existing data to drive their business in brand new ways.

This concept is difficult to many organizations because looking beyond an employee’s data fiefdom to find something that may add value is often regarded as an impediment to their job duties. It’s easy to think – especially if you have a talented and capable team – “If the data is relevant, then we would already be using it.” But the fact is, fresh perspective is usually the catalyst for dark data discovery.

So, what are some ways you can start to shine a light on dark data? You could:

  • Rotate project personnel with internal employees
  • Bring in an outside consultant with industry expertise and experience with industry peers
  • Reward personnel that make new discoveries
  • Create a culture where any employee or department can offer ideas and suggestions
  • Explore external data sources that aren’t part of your daily analysis
  • Talk to your customers about ways they use data
  • Talk to non-coworkers about scenarios you are working

No matter your approach, someone not moored in by the status quo is your best bet to uncover new data and business changing discoveries.

Trey Bayne Trey is a Senior Sales Engineer at Analytics8. He specializes in application development in a variety of business applications, including QlikView, Qlik Sense, AWS and SharePoint. He's very interested in projects that he can carry from solution research to a business-changing product.
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