Businesses are in danger of drowning from data and information overload, leading UK IT chiefs have warned.

The amount of data stored and information shared electronically by many businesses continues to grow almost exponentially, from email archives going back years to highly sensitive customer, transactional and financial data.

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In many cases there are regulatory and legal obligations for retaining and storing this information but’s CIO Jury IT user panel said the volume of data is threatening to overwhelm many businesses.

Gavin Whatrup, group IT director at marketing services company Creston, said: “Data capture, such as RFID, is generating huge amounts of additional data. Regulations dictate that we retain it, and competitive pressures demand we make better use of it. Data management, and that includes the storage technology behind it, and knowledge management are going to be key technologies in the battle to remain operationally compliant and commercially competitive.”

Drowning in the bathwater or throwing out the baby with it are increasingly becoming the only two options, according to David Supple, director of IT and creative services at economic research company Ecotec.

He said: “The sheer quantity means you are never really able to grade the quality of the information at the organisation’s disposal.”

The proliferation of different data forms also presents problems for businesses. Russell Altendorff, IT director at the London Business School, said filtering and search mechanisms will be needed for all types of messaging platforms including video and audio to cover the use of new unified-messaging technologies such as Skype.

The data overload problem is also not restricted to large enterprises. Matthew McGrory, head of technology at MotorSport Vision, Brands Hatch, said it is a massive problem for small and medium-sized businesses.

He said: “Users just have not been properly prepared for managing the vast quantities of data they have to contend with. Email seems to be the biggest issue with users hoarding massive amounts of data that they can’t search with any speed or reliability. Enterprise search tools are most certainly the key emerging market to help tackle this problem.”

But Peter Maddigan, associate IT director at Budget Insurance, said: “It’s not a question of drowning in the volume of data. The challenges are around effective archiving policies, plus the identification and timely access to relevant information to support business decisions.”

Nick Masterson-Jones, IT director at Voca, agreed. He said: “The growth of information has been matched by a tremendous improvement in the tools available to manage data. I reckon it has never been easier to manage information.”

Today’s CIO Jury was…

Russell Altendorff, IT director, London Business School
Paul Broome, IT director,
Kirk Downey, CTO, Centrica
Steve Fountain, IT director, Markel International
Neil Harvey, head of IT & accommodation, Food Standards Agency
Matthew McGrory, head of technology at MotorSport Vision
Peter Maddigan, associate IT director, Budget Insurance
Nick Masterson-Jones, IT director at Voca
Colin Moore, head of IS, Department for Education and Skills
David Supple, director of IT and creative services, Ecotec
Rob Wharton, CIO, Colt Telecom
Gavin Whatrup, group IT director, Creston

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