Could unlimited data limit data silos?


Some strong storms recently caused an extended disruption in the internet service provided by my local cable company, which gave me an opportunity to test the reliability of my smartphone's mobile broadband connectivity as well as see just how unlimited my unlimited data plan really is.

After successfully passing both aspects of this test, I analyzed my smartphone's log file and was surprised to discover how much data I used – nearly five GB in less than 24 hours.

Of course, the reason that mobile providers offer unlimited (as well as a variety of limited) data plans is because more and more of our daily activities, both personal and professional, involve using data – and sometimes using a lot more data than we realize.

When most people discuss the unrelenting data management trend of big data, many express concerns about information overload. But when that term was originally coined more than 40 years ago, the primary concern was not about the increasing amount of information, but the increasing access to information. I think the unlimited data plans from mobile providers are an excellent example of this because most smartphone data usage is about access to, not accumulation of, data.

For example, a large percentage of my smartphone data usage was allocated to data streaming services (Pandora for music, Netflix for television shows). With data streaming, I am accessing data without accumulating data; i.e., I am not downloading audio and video files to save on my smartphone's hard drive (which has a very limited storage capacity anyway).

Of course, one reason for this is financial; e.g., if I wanted to download the MP3 file of a favorite song, I would have to purchase it, whereas Pandora offers a free music streaming service (if you ignore the cost of buying a smartphone and paying for a monthly mobile service plan).

To me, the more interesting aspect of my smartphone data usage is that I am not creating a smartphone data silo.

Unlimited data access has not required unlimited data storage since the vast majority of the data I use via my smartphone is not retained. Compare this with the data silos that proliferate within most organizations. Many, if not most, data silos consist of data that was retained for a very specific and short-term use. However, after this data is used, it is retained, incurring long-term storage and maintenance costs despite its disuse.

Sometimes I think we create data silos just because we can. So, I can't help but wonder – could unlimited data limit data silos? In other words, could the enterprise data management equivalent of an unlimited data plan provide users access to unlimited data streaming services without allowing them to create local copies of enterprise data, therefore limiting the proliferation and retention of data silos?


About Author

Jim Harris

Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality (OCDQ)

Jim Harris is a recognized data quality thought leader with 25 years of enterprise data management industry experience. Jim is an independent consultant, speaker, and freelance writer. Jim is the Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality, an independent blog offering a vendor-neutral perspective on data quality and its related disciplines, including data governance, master data management, and business intelligence.


  1. Larry Ellison's vision of the Network Computer revisited?!

    A nice thought Jim, and in principle, we should certainly be able to achieve a "move and store nothing" model for data management. At a practical level though, the implications for underlying data management and infrastructure capabilities are significant.

    Hosted corporate services for MDM, enterprise integration, data warehouse, business intelligence, data sandpit/mashups, document management, business applications, network etc would all need to be in place, and end-user devices will need to become even more sophisticated. (Not to mention the cultural changes associated with the psychological comfort factor of downloading your own local copy of data!)

    • Jim Harris

      Thanks for your comment, Alan.

      Putting in place the underlying data management and infrastructure capabilities would be a significant challenge and enhanced end-user devices would be required. Many would doubt such an endeavor would ever be viable, but many doubted a streaming video service like Netflix could be a viable business model.

      I agree that the biggest obstacle would be overcoming the psychological comfort factor of downloading your own local copy of data. After all, even with services like Netflix, people still buy their own copies (e.g., DVDs) of movies. Another example of how technology will always change faster than culture.

      Best Regards,


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