Three Questions to Ask Before You Do a File Analytics Project

The file analytics market has greatly matured in the last decade, to the point where we regularly see these software products as part of the standard IT portfolio in mid-sized and large organizations.

As for how these file analytics products are being used, we’re seeing a variety of scenarios at our clients:

  • They have one or a bunch of tools in the enterprise, all of which do files analytics, and they have some vague needs for file analytics capabilities—but they don’t know 1) what kind of file analytics they should do, 2) what tools they should use for it, and 3) how in fact to pull off such a project.
  • They are doing something that could sure use file analytics—e.g. a risk management initiative, or moving to a new ECM system, or there’s an event such as a merger or big subpoena, requiring e-discovery; or they’re doing a significant system migration (to O365, off legacy ECM, etc.) or a sensitive data cleanup or data purge (possibly as the precursor to a system migration).

Each of these scenarios would do well to step back and ask the following three questions--before embarking on their file analytics project:

  1. What am I analyzing?
  2. Why am I doing it?
  3. What should I do?

And why ask—and answer—these three questions? (I’m glad you asked!) Because looking at the market for these tools, I identified and reviewed a total of 40 vendors in the file analytics market space, and what I found is that their respective capabilities (and associated sweet spots) vary widely. Bottom line: The file analytics tool you use will depend on how you answer these three questions.

1. What Am I Analyzing?

The first question gets you pointed in the right direction. You’re asking what types of files, repositories, and “inventories” you will be analyzing. Are they file and document systems (unstructured data), databases (structured data), software as a service (SaaS, or cloud), infrastructure as a service (IaaS), big data? Bottom line: You have to answer this question, because the technologies and solutions for each kind of repository are vastly different.

2. Why Am I Doing It?

The second question pinpoints the objective of your file analytics initiative. You may be doing it to manage risk, improve business efficiency, optimize IT, extract strategic value from your data, or for e-discovery, investigation or audit, or as part of due diligence for a merger and acquisition or a divestiture. Or it could be some weighted combination of any of the above.  The objectives and scenarios we see most often are as follows:

  • Information governance for risk management – the most common kind of assessment, generally conducted for risk and compliance objectives
  • Information management to improve business process efficiency – not effectively addressed, but needed
  • IT optimization – for information lifecycle management
  • Value analytics – analyzing structured data for strategic value (e.g. business intelligence apps)
  • Event response – e-discovery for investigations; audits, mergers and acquisitions, divestitures
3. What Should I Do?

Whatever you are doing the file analytics project for, your project will have the same kind of structure. We find that most folks get really confused about this and so don’t plan their file analytics projects very well.

There are two categories of initiatives in which file analytics tools come into play:

  • Strategic projects, which involve a series of stages: preparation, migration and modification, information management, maintenance and monitoring
  • Tactical projects, conducted in response to a triggered event, which involve preparation and additional specialized services, depending on the specific event

What’s important to understand here is that each type of initiative and each stage is likely to require different file analytics tools. The graphic below outlines these categories of initiatives, along with the respective project stages, and the functional requirements for the type of work involved at each stage:

So which tools do you use for which category of initiative and which stage of the project? I reviewed the functional capabilities of the file analytics tools now on the market and plugged them into the above categories and stages. The result is this table, which identifies the various kinds of capabilities you’ll need for each type of initiative:

So there you have it: the questions to ask if you’re about to conduct a file analytics initiative, and the functionality you’ll need when you do.


Rich Medina
Rich Medina
I’m a Principal Consultant and co-founder of Doculabs, and the resident expert in using ECM for information lifecycle management.