How to Solve Data Sprawl Within Your Business in 2021

Data sprawl is a real risk to your business, especially with more people working remotely. In this article, learn how to solve data sprawl, saving your company valuable time and money.

Aleksandar Kochovski
By Aleksandar Kochovski (Editor)
— Last Updated: 2020-11-22T19:35:15+00:00 Facts checked by Andrea Babic

Data loss is a major issue facing companies and organizations. As the internet of things expands, so does the number of devices you use for work. The data produced and stored on these devices can lead to your important business files getting lost in a sea of redundancy. That’s called data sprawl.

The increasing trend for remote work has exacerbated this problem like never before. Home computers and personal mobile gadgets are entering the arsenal of work devices as companies move to virtual offices, further complicating things.

Key Takeaways:

  • Every app and device your team uses generates an incredible amount of data that may be difficult to access, creating “data sprawl” or “content sprawl.”
  • Data sprawl can be detrimental to workers’ productivity and creates redundant work.
  • Employing cloud storage proactively is the first step toward mitigating content sprawl, preventing data loss and ensuring the security of company information.

In this article, we’ll talk about how your business can manage data sprawl and create a foolproof data loss prevention plan.

  • Data sprawl or content sprawl occurs when workers create and store content across many different devices and storage systems. It can cause companies to lose important content that then needs to be recreated. Plus, even searching for a file can be a slog when it’s buried in a pile of irrelevant data.

  • Object-based storage doesn’t rely on the typical folder-style structure that most operating systems use. Instead of files, it stores your data as “objects,” which can hold an enormous amount of metadata. Your system can then use this metadata to index your files and organize them into many different categories, making it much easier to find files and perform data analytics.

Data Sprawl Definition

In the days before the internet, businesses kept their files in drawers and cabinets. Now, imagine if those drawers and cabinets were scattered around the building, and you had to go to a different floor every time you needed to get a file. Nowadays, those files are spread across laptops, tablets, cloud storage platforms and more — that’s what data sprawl is.

Data sprawl multiple data sources
Many data sources creating unorganized content is what causes data sprawl.

How Does Data Sprawl Happen?

Companies in the digital age rely on a wide variety of devices, software, operating systems and cloud storage platforms to store and create data. All of the apps that your staff uses every day end up proliferating content.

These endless data sources contribute to data sprawl in a significant way, which threaten the security of company information. Here are a few ways data sprawl can happen:

  • Employees leaving important work files on home and mobile devices
  • Company files located across many different storage systems, data silos and cloud storage platforms
  • Multiple copies and versions of the same files existing on those various file storage systems network-wide
  • Using different operating systems — such as Windows, macOS and Linux — which utilize different file types
  • Tools and applications with proprietary file types creating a large amount of data that’s difficult to access across the network
  • Holding on to project-specific files and folders and cluttering up your organization’s storage instead of archiving them

What Are the Dangers of Cloud Storage Data Sprawl?

Data sprawl puts your company at risk of losing important information in the jumble of devices and storage systems that it uses. Sensitive data can be forgotten on external hard drives or in difficult-to-access archives. That can lead to data duplicated in multiple locations, making it hard to know which version of the files you need.

Simply put, data sprawl costs your company time and money. An employee might put in the effort to create a new file only to find out that Steve from accounting already had that file on his old laptop. Plus, employees may waste valuable hours every week just searching for files that should be easily accessible.

Also, bits of information on the same subject could be scattered across different applications, making cross referencing data a real pain.

Imagine trying to create a full customer profile. Their project data is in one place, their payment information is in another and their contact information is somewhere else (and you might not even have permission to access those places).

Perhaps the greatest danger to a company stemming from sprawling data is old data. Unused files that have been in your system for a long time may pose a data security risk because you might not be aware they contain sensitive information. If you inadvertently give someone access to that file, you may create a security risk for your company in the case of a ransomware attack.

Manage data sprawl cloud storage
Cloud storage can help your company keep data sprawl in check.

How to Solve Data Sprawl in 5 Simple Steps

So, if data sprawl is such a problem, how can you solve it? Well, here are a few easy steps that your company can take to manage data sprawl.

1. Move Your Data to the Cloud

Take control of your data (new or old) by moving it to the cloud. No matter how many devices your employees use to create data, it’s fine as long as it all ends up in the same place. Cloud storage is a solution that lets you store everything in one spot. Plus, cloud data is much easier to access since you don’t have to physically use a different device.

2. Use a Dedicated Enterprise Cloud Solution

While vendors like Google Drive and Dropbox grab all the headlines, they’re not exactly built for business. Enterprise file sync and sharing solutions (or EFSS for short) are made with businesses in mind. Our favorite EFSS provider is Egnyte Connect, for several reasons, which you can read about in our Egnyte review.

Egnyte can be a powerful tool for managing data sprawl thanks to its customizable metadata layers. These layers let you assign extra information to a file or folder, such as contract information, descriptions of the contents of an image or video, the geographic location of a project or pretty much anything you want. These layers can make searching for files a breeze.

3. Integrate Applications Into Your Cloud Storage

We mentioned that every app ends up creating more and more content. Well, what if all of those apps could output that data into the same place? Cloud services can help with that, too, by providing integrations with apps, whether it’s office software, like Microsoft Office and Google Workspace, or online collaboration tools, like monday.com or Trello.

4. Provide Employees With the Tools and Access They Need

This one is especially true for organizations reliant on remote work and a bring-your-own-device system. Your staff must receive adequate training for remote work, as it creates different vulnerabilities than office work. Plus, you should provide them with crucial software, such as ransomware protection, to close any gaps in data security and create a secure environment.

It’s also a good idea to have decent access-management policies in place to ensure that employees don’t leak data or handle it incorrectly. The best practice for access management would be to give workers no more access than they need to do their job efficiently.

5. Implement Proper Content Life-Cycle Management

A big part of data loss prevention is managing the life cycle of your data. Simply put, the files that you’re working on currently should be accessible to anyone working on them. Then, after the project is complete, keep the files for several months in case you need them. After a few months, you can safely archive them to a cold storage system.

Final Thoughts

Data sprawl is a real risk to your business. With remote work becoming more commonplace in companies and organizations, it could create headaches for workers and compromise the security of your business’ data. However, employing the right techniques for managing data sprawl can help save you valuable time and money.

Did you find this guide helpful? How is your organization dealing with data sprawl? Are you employing different solutions for mitigating sprawling data? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below. As always, thank you for reading.