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What is the Half Life of Data?

Half-Life of Data Mean?

The term “half-life” was originally coined by scientists studying the amount of time it takes for at least 50% of a substance to undergo an extreme change. When studying analytics and data science, the term often comes up. 

While the half-life of data isn’t as exact a measure as the half-life of substances, the implications are similar. In this case, the half-life of data is referring to the amount of time it takes for the majority of it to become irrelevant. This is an exponential curve downwards, meaning that data is at its peak value when first collected, then accelerates in loss of value over time.

In a recent study, researchers highlighted the issue that administrators often underestimate or misunderstand the half-life of their data and the implications it carries. 

What Are the Three Business Categories of Data?

Nucleus Research found in their study that businesses driving decisions with data fall into one of three categories: tactical, operational, or strategic. The half-life of data varies by the business data category.

These categories were self-identified, and no real-world business is only one of these categories. Companies in the study were asked to select a category based on four factors: their suppliers, their markets, how regulated they are, and how much they depend on intellectual property.


According to the study, the tactical category contains companies who utilize data to influence their processes in almost real-time. Because data received is extremely valuable when first received, then rapidly declines in value to the company, this category has the steepest downward curve of data half-life.

This category emphasizes how important it is for companies to have technology that allows them to act as quickly as possible on actionable data. The study found that, on average, the half-life of data in this category is a mere 30 minutes. That means data is losing a majority of its value in the first 30 minutes after collection!


The study indicates that companies using data for operational purposes generally require it to make decisions that could be anywhere from a day to a week. This is a mid-level category with a half-life curve that goes down exponentially, but far more slowly than data of companies in the “tactical” category.

Nucleus Research found that data in this category had an average half-life of 8 hours but ranged widely among companies, from one hour to 48 hours.


Companies falling into this category use data for long-term processes and plans. Strategic data’s value is the most distributed, losing value very slowly over time. The half-life of their data is a small-slope linear graph. Strategic data’s average half-life is 56 hours and widely variable.

What Are 3 Ways to Speed Up Conversion from Raw Data into Actionable Insights?

Here are three ways to divert data from silos and process it into valuable and actionable insights for your business.

Ask Good Questions – In order for raw data to be valuable, it must have a defined purpose. Meeting with all stakeholders and determining what specific question you’d like answered, then identifying data that must be collected to answer it instantly increases the value of what you’re already collecting.

Use Segmentation – If possible, differentiate among types of clients or users as much as possible. This will create more individualized and accurate insights.

Create Context – Data silos happen when large, ambiguous groups of data are collected. Ensure that everyone understands what each piece of data actually means to instantly add value to logged data.

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