What do you know about your data footprint?

What is an enterprise 'data footprint' in real terms— and what implications does its existence throw up?
26 November 2018

How big is your digital footprint? Source: Shutterstock

A decade or so ago we were barely even using the expression and it’s difficult to track when exactly the term itself was coined. But today, the notion of a corporate ‘data footprint’ has come to express the breadth of space that a modern business now spans in terms of its deployed IT stack.

Made up of applications and the databases that they will feed off of, a contemporary business with one or more locations is starting to tread with a bigger data footprint than ever before.

But what is an enterprise data footprint in real terms— and what implications does its existence throw up?

Data footprint vs. digital footprint

Let’s start with what it’s not, or not quite at least. A data footprint is related to but not quite the same as a digital footprint.

Wikipedia defines a digital footprint (or digital shadow) as a person or company’s unique set of traceable digital activities, actions, contributions and communications that are manifested on the internet or on digital devices.

So, that’s rather like a supercharged version of your web history with an associated trail of additional log-ins, cookies and other web-based paraphernalia.

Various technology platforms from social media channels to retail payment systems to online mapping tools will always be looking to ‘scrape’ digital footprints in order to trace users (or companies) to defined behavioral preferences and use that information for upselling, cross-selling or just plain old selling.

Stepping into your data footprint

A data footprint can include some or all of the actions left on the web and on devices in the digital footprint, but it also includes internal systems, servers, and cloud computing services.

Your organization’s data footprint also includes all your firm’s log file activities (applications create logs when they ‘do’ anything, basically).

Plus, your organization’s data footprint also potentially includes all the connection points you have established to the outside world, many of which today will be created through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

Why does all of this matter?

Because if your IT function is operating with a short-term view of the data footprint being created, then it risks falling short of provisioning for enough infrastructure for it to sit upon.

In shoe shopping analogy terms (as we’re talking about footprints after all), it could be likened to setting out on a 100-mile trek in a pair of broken flip-flops, when you really should be investing in a new pair of Gore-Tex boots.

Footprint cadence

What we’re seeing now is a state where many firms are growing the size, shape, and structure of their data footprint faster than they are building the infrastructure they need to place underneath it.

Rather than building a smooth regular cadence with an ability to walk, sprint or run as fast as the business needs to for any given (often fast-changing) commercial dynamic, ignoring the data footprint leads to an ungainly amble where the business ends up trampling roughshod over important compliance concerns such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI, and others.

There is no central magical shoe shop that caters for all the ramifications of the data footprint. Managing the complexity of what your firm’s users do when, where and why will require an increasingly complex set of management tools and dashboards, which will, in fact, create more footprint space in and of themselves.

The answer, for now at least, appears to rest in at least accepting this new notion of data formation and looking for ways to centralize systems that can collate, corral and control.

If anyone in your IT department fails to appreciate the importance of the data footprint today, tell them to put a sock in it. Sorry, just couldn’t resist.