How Much Data is Too Much?

By April 27, 2017

Businesses create, consume, and collect more data today than ever before, and the apparel and footwear industry is no exception. InformationWeek reported in September 2016 users created about 7.9 zettabytes of data in 2015 globally. And you can expect that number to grow to 35 zettabytes in 2020.

The reigning consensus a decade ago inferred Big Data was king and those who could harness its power would outperform the competition. With today's advances in technology, computing power, and the explosion of data analytics, however, apparel companies of all sizes can collect and process more data than they could a decade ago. This begs the question: how much data is too much?

Risks of too much data

Consumers are becoming outraged at the types and magnitude of data that companies in all industries are collecting about their personal lives and habits. What countries felt was excessive collection lead to regulations restricting data collection to protect consumers' privacy.

Collecting big data costs more to store and protect. With the rash of data breaches, companies are hard-pressed to keep data protected, spending much more on security than in the past. The 2016 Ponemon Institute Cost of Cyber Crime Study reported annual losses due to cybercrime exceeded $9.5 million.

Finally, if Big Data is collected without an eye to its quality, having poor quality or incorrect data leads to apparel and footwear companies making serious mistakes that harm their futures. Poor quality data often leads to poor decision-making that also harms companies' viability.

What this means for quality inspections

Just because you can collect more data about the entire apparel and footwear manufacturing process in each of your suppliers' factories doesn't mean you should. A perfect example is this excerpt from a Harvard Business Review article, "The Hidden Factory":

"Another way to improve transaction based overhead is to reduce the 'granularity' of the data that are reported. Every manufacturing system embodies decisions about how finely and how frequently transaction data are to be reported. It makes no sense to process more data than needed or more often than needed.

One company, for example, found that its quality transaction system was collecting and keeping quality data on every possible activity—despite the very poor quality of its products. The quality department often complained that it never had time to analyze the data, which just sat in file cabinets and computer files, because it spent all its time collecting. By focusing on the few key areas where most of the quality problems existed, the department was able to improve quality dramatically while it reduced costs. It processed quality transactions more intensively in the key areas and much less intensively where things were running smoothly."

Final thoughts

Today's technology has made data collection easier, faster, and cheaper. Your suppliers' factories may collect and record data about heat, speed, and other measurements that can have an impact on quality inspections of apparel and footwear. In reality, though, most Chinese factories don't collect and provide quality data.

It's important to collect your own data during quality inspections. At the same time, be cognizant of the type of data collected. Data quality—much more than data quantity—will impact your company's growth. Protect your business from being overwhelmed by data, and institute data quality controls alongside your apparel and footwear

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