Historical data as an asset

Historical data can be of significant value to your business and can save both time and money insofar as it can be reused. However, problems can arise when trying to access historical data that was stored in old or deprecated file formats, or accessibility of historical data was restricted to specific individuals or departments.

Read on to find out more about how historical data can be leveraged to give your business an edge.

Data collection – old vs. new methods

Historical data is data that was collected in the past, and therefore already exists within a company.

In the past, field data was collected using paper and pencil. It was used and eventually stored in binders or archived in boxes. In many cases this data was never used again.

With today’s digital data collection and storage tools, the process is the same, but the method is different: Instead of physical binders, we now use apps to collect data and databases to store it.

Many organizations do not use historical data at all in their operations. As a result, sometimes identical data is collected more than once. The recollection of identical data costs money and does not provide any real benefit.

Accessing historical data

Once data has been used, it is stored and often forgotten, probably because no one sees its value in the short term.

Data is your business’s memory, and it is of great value. It is a shame that this data too often remains hidden and unused.

Therefore, reusing existing historical data can be of great benefit to your business in terms of both cost savings as well as efficiency. On the other hand, the use of historical data can present a few problems:

  • File formats and versions: Are current tools able to read old data?
  • Access: Where is your data stored or published? Is it possible to access historical data archives easily?
  • Valuable vs. redundant data: What is the useful information contained within the gigabytes of historical data?

These issues must be considered from the start when designing data architectures that will be used to store data collected in the field. Having a future-proof data architecture can make it easier for you or future colleagues to access historical data later on.

Let us examine these issues in more detail.

Accessibility

Formats and compatibility

Accessing historical data presents a problem when it has been stored in formats which are no longer supported.

Companies have huge amounts of historical business data locked away in formats that no one can open any more. Indeed, it is not always easy to predict which file formats will be commonly used in the future. For example, in the past it was not known that Excel would dominate the spreadsheet market.

It is therefore important to use open standards, such as CSV or JSON, when choosing formats for long-term archiving.

It is also a good practice to update your data formats periodically. For example, Lotus 123 formats are always convertible (albeit after a laborious process) into excel databases.

Storing data efficiently and in supported formats is thus essential. For example, the Access format will soon be deprecated, so it is important to find an alternative to this file format as soon as possible.

Restrictions and ease of access to historical data

Is access to your historical data restricted to certain people or departments? If so, you will need to review your data security policies when storing collected data in the field so that you can access it more easily.

In conclusion, here are some points to bear in mind with regard to historical data:

  • Do not underestimate the value of your historical data.
  • Before collecting data in the field, check whether any of it already exists.
  • Use data file formats that will be easily accessible in the future.
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