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Opinion piece: As the IoT drives data into the zettabytes, data management becomes more critical than ever

From laptops and PCs to mobile phones and tablets, wearables to smart TVs, the number of connected devices has grown exponentially – and this is only on the consumer side. There is also a plethora of sensors in everything from cars to fridges, manufacturing equipment to heavy machinery. These connected devices are collectively known as the Internet of Things (IoT) and they are driving data generation at an unprecedented pace. In fact, an IDC forecast published in 2019 predicts that the growth in connected IoT devices will generate 79.4ZB of data in 2025. Indiscriminately storing and maintaining all of this data forever is not only impossible, it could be a risky business strategy. Data management therefore becomes a critical tool in managing storage costs and compliance objectives, among other factors. 

All data has a purpose and a lifespan

The increasing number and variety of devices generating data means that the traditional data strategy of keeping everything forever simply can no longer continue. The cost of storage alone is prohibitive, leading some businesses to simply store what they can afford and delete the rest, but the issue is bigger than just running out of storage capacity. There is a growing body of legislation around the protection of information, especially sensitive or personally identifiable data, and lack of an appropriate data management strategy is a huge risk.

The reality is that all data, especially that generated by IoT devices, serves a specific purpose, and has a particular lifespan. For example, a machine in a factory may have a sensor that checks its status every 30 seconds and sends a ‘health check’ signal. While this data is valuable to ensure the machine is up and running, it expires rapidly, and its lifespan is therefore very short. Maintaining this vast volume of data would be incredibly expensive and deliver zero value to the business. It is critical to classify data according to its business value and lifespan and ensure that it is stored or deleted appropriately.

In short, data management needs to be applied, with defined policies and protocols according to the purpose of the data generated. Without a data management strategy, valuable information may not be kept for analysis whilst volumes of meaningless data is stored.  Why? Because there is no visibility into the data.

Applications for IoT in South Africa

IoT is seeing accelerated uptake across the globe, and South Africa is no different. One industry that is already seeing the benefits of connected devices is logistics, where sensors are effectively used to track and monitor the weight of cargo, to help prevent theft of goods en route. IoT devices can also be used to optimise processes and cut expenses, thereby maximising profitability, which is essential in an industry where margins are tight. Another area is the healthcare sector where IoT is already being applied with huge benefits and many different use cases.

The benefits of IoT data are significant, however they are heavily reliant on effective data management. The value of data depends on the industry, – how it is applied, and how the devices are integrated into the business. It may have value immediately and for a short duration, or only in the long-term, but governing this would be impossible without a data management strategy in place, In addition, much of the data generated is auditable, which means that it is essential to have a strategy to identify where relevant data is stored and how it is accessed. .

In an uncertain economy, data management is critical

Data is often a background thing that is not fully considered and is often taken for granted. The Covid-19 crisis, however, has highlighted the importance and value of data –having it available when it is needed, and ensuring that it is managed and protected no matter where it is located. It has also brought to the fore the importance of a “hands-off” approach.

Given the predicted exponential growth of data, driven not only by the IoT but a variety of other technological advancement factors as well, it is imperative to ensure data management is effective. An expert partner with experience in the industry is essential to help businesses identify where their data resides, understand how their data is handled, the various data classifications and types, as well as the value of the data to the business. Once this is mapped out, it is then possible to gain an understanding of what insight can be extracted and how data needs to be secured. Armed with this knowledge, businesses will be empowered to make sound decisions around their data to help them manage and optimise it even as volumes grow into the zettabytes.

By Hemant Harie, Managing Director of Gabsten Technologies

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