Last year, pub chain J D Wetherspoon deleted its entire customer database, with the company saying it no longer wanted to be intrusive to customers. Whilst many questioned its actions, are we in fact about to witness a big data backlash?

With the increasing popularity of predictive analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, it is turning every business into a data hoarder, holding onto data ‘just in case’ these advanced technologies can work their alchemy and turn everyday information into gold. However, Wetherspoon is not the only organisation pouring cold water on the ‘all data is good data’ belief. Analyst firm Forrester Research predicts that as much of 73% of data collected will never be successfully used for any strategic purpose. The best solution, as ever, lies somewhere in between.

There’s little doubt that marketers can benefit greatly from data analysis to forecast trends and unlock insights. However, businesses must balance this with the need for transparency and to protect any sensitive data they hold. This is being brought into focus by the impending General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which applies to any organisation processing and holding the personal data of anyone residing in the EU, regardless of the organisation’s location.

GDPR is forcing businesses to rethink their data protection policies. The regulation lays down the minimum that businesses should be doing to protect data, particularly the most sensitive and personal. This could cover a customer’s name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number, credit card and bank account numbers.

It’s not just the threat of massive fines that are leading to a rethink. Decluttering is simply good practice in data management terms. Businesses need to think about why they collected the data in the first place and what value it brings. If the answer is none, then it needs to be purged from servers; back-ups and cache memory.

For most organisations, the biggest barrier is understanding just what data they have and where it is located. Businesses need to be better at documenting what data they hold, where it came from, who has access to it and with whom they share it. Being better organised and disciplined about destroying data that isn’t needed or is incomplete as it is encountered will go a long way to letting the business breathe more freely – and worry less about GDPR.