The Rise of Dark Data and What It Means To Accounts Payable

As any business in today’s digital, interconnected world knows, data is important. For most, it’s critical. Existing data is relied upon to run the company efficiently, whilst new data is generated at almost every instance.

Indeed it’s this proliferation of data which has given rise to the term ‘dark data’, and is a subject which poses both potential problems and exciting opportunities for businesses. Although it might seem daunting to your Accounts Payable department, dark data could prove to be extremely profitable.

What is ‘dark data’?

By many estimates, dark data makes up around 80% of total content in any organisation. It can be defined as any data which has been generated, but now lies dormant and inactive. As a result of standard day-to-day processes, dark data is all the content that is left behind, hidden in systems and servers, and underused or forgotten about.

It could include:

  • Email attachments downloaded multiple times and left undeleted
  • .zip files received, unzipped and then ignored
  • Inactive and unused customer information
  • Previous employee content (for example, notes on projects or pitches)
  • Old support tickets

For Accounts Payable, dark data is derived from multiple channels, ranging from overviews in an ERP system to field-level data from the invoices concerned. It encompasses:

  • Previous transactions
  • Account history
  • CRM information
  • And any source created – explicitly or otherwise – that touches on a value, client, data or product

As part of the ‘Big Data’ issue, the volume of dark data is growing at a rapid pace, and the velocity by which it’s generated is ever increasing.

The warnings about ‘the dark side’

Many businesses have a need to retain dark data for compliance reasons. Years of accounts data, records and logs are all required to be kept by law, but they are no longer necessary for any day-to-day operations. They need to be filed away safely – secure and away from unauthorised access, but still accessible if they should ever be needed.

In these circumstances, it’s important that files are not forgotten about. If they are not monitored and kept safe, the business-critical information they contain could be mined without knowledge and used for nefarious reasons.

That is the danger of dark data, especially in its relation to Accounts Payable.

It’s this confidential, sensitive, and unstructured information – which could include customer account details for example – that poses a security risk and could result in legal action, a damaged reputation and expensive pay-outs.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many businesses are unaware of what kind of data even exists. It’s this hidden data that hampers internal reviews and external audits; what if an issue is raised about an account from two years ago, and payment is called into question, but the invoices and records cannot be found?

In this instance, dark data costs you money.

Understand and leverage your dark data

Having disparate content in a business system(s) is unproductive and risky. But if you can connect, organise and analyse this dark data, not only can you secure it against potential risks, you’ll also be able to use the content for productive purposes.

Another definition of dark data is that it’s information that has unfulfilled value. It is content with potential, and an asset that can be harnessed for the benefit of the business.

The company that is able to identify useful and relevant data, and subsequently adopt or make use of it to the fullest, is the organisation most likely to succeed, outperform and deliver value outwardly and inwardly.

Find where your dark data is, access it, organise it, analyse it and then take action. It could prove to be extremely profitable.

Knowledge is built on information and information is based on content. This content is completely reliant on dark data to deliver that eventual business wisdom and value to Accounts Payable. The more information Accounts Payable pulls on, the more value it can deliver to the organisation as a whole.

Bringing information out into the open and applying or re-engineering it can make all the difference in terms of:

  • Validating a client’s credit
  • Closing unmatched delivery notes
  • Identifying missed inline invoice details
  • Spotting product trends and upsell opportunities
  • Understanding compliance to terms
  • Analysing ad hoc buying or spending habits

In extreme cases, mining dark data, identifying its value and taking action from it can even prevent a business from going bankrupt.

The obstacles to unlocking value

In order to understand what value dark data may hold, businesses need to be able to analyse it first. Apparent costs and complexities can often inhibit this.

Unfortunately, many companies do not have the basic content management, storage systems, search functionality and reporting ability in place to utilise dark data effectively. A recent AIIM report found that 80% of organisations have yet to allocate a senior role responsible for overseeing this, resulting in disorganisation and poor intelligence when it comes to analytics.

But ‘big data’ is increasingly seen as a core competence in business, so why not dark data too?

Due to the rate at which technology is developing, especially around analytics and business intelligence tools, these obstacles are quickly being eliminated.
Coming out of from the shadows

Dark data can be big data – it doesn’t have to sit in its shadow.

Joining structured and unstructured data sets can potentially deliver high value results for companies, so a lot of these ‘mining’ technologies should take centre stage in IT projects on a more prevalent basis going forward.

It’s important to act when the benefits of use outweigh the costs of accessing and analysing dark data. Locate, organise and understand data in order to unlock its relevance and usefulness. There may be information you can monetise, there might not, but you won’t know until you assess it.

For the inputs and outputs of an Accounts Payable process, having all the content able to see each other is an asset that needs to be recognised and applied to the best of its ability. It will help you realise inefficiencies, even if this just means avoiding duplicate invoices or identifying previous purchasing trends.

The key is to prevent data from “going to the dark-side” in the first instance, by using automated Accounts Payables systems to capture and verify all information from incoming invoices.

To be the best, you have to understand your market, your audience and their needs. Dark data is a superb asset that could help with that, ensuring your organisation can thrive and succeed.

 

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Stephen is an expert in Information Management. With over 25 years’ experience, he understands the analysis, methods and processes that are necessary in delivering service excellence that fits businesses’ needs. His understanding encompasses all forms of data and information capture and access solutions from collaboration through DM to ECM. Getting the right information to the right people at the right time.

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