Tony Bartlett, Director: Data Centre Compute at Dell Technologies South Africa
Economic pressures compounded by the pandemic mean business leaders are fighting for relevancy – and it is the CIO who holds the key. That’s because today, an organisation’s competitive advantage is directly determined by how rapidly it turns data into the meaningful insights that drive business outcomes. Their destiny lies in their data.
But there’s a challenge. In the so-called data decade, when data is expected to hit 175ZB worldwide by 2025, less than 0.5% of the world’s data is actually being analysed. There is a surplus of dark data. The reality is that while organisations amass ever more data, this growth rate is exceeding their ability to truly harness the insights. Over a third of IT decision makers regard “sourcing, gathering, managing and governing data as it grows” as one of their biggest challenges, according to a Forrester study.
There’s no doubt that enterprises understand that access to quality data is the spark that will ignite better customer and business experiences, or that they are trying to realise the full potential of their data to get a competitive edge. In every industry, emerging technologies are disrupting and reinventing the ways people expect to interact, with increasingly empowered consumers demanding more data-rich, personalised experiences.
These changes bring rich opportunities. CIOs are faced with no shortage of competing projects and priorities, but with many projects being put on hold due to economic uncertainty, picking the right areas to advance is critical. Businesses can truly embrace their digital futures, accelerating the cycle of innovation and creating competitive differentiation, if they re-focus and commit to conquering three key challenges.
- Data Management: Dark, distributed and diverse
Unfortunately, today’s data management approaches are ill-equipped to meet the needs of the data era. For example, CIOs need to embrace data siloes rather than eliminate them as we move away from centralised data strategies. This is being driven by increasingly distributed data as IoT technologies fuel edge computing. Every second, 127 new IoT devices connect to the internet and Gartner predicts that 75% of all enterprise-generated data will be created and stored at the edge by 2025. As the number of edge locations generating data grows, centralised data strategies that transfer distributed data to the cloud simply won’t be able to keep up with the real-time demands.
Meanwhile the majority of data stored is never even used, it is gathered and archived amongst the data deluge – but it is never used to drive any business outcomes. This is dark data and its prolific growth demonstrates the struggle to harness the value of data as well as a managing. Add to this predicament the new demand for real-time data set to spice up data management up over the next 5 – 10 years. According to Forrester research, analysts predict that between 2019 and 2024, enterprises will triple their unstructured data stored as file or object. With data use becoming more sophisticated the spotlight is well and truly on data management.
This growing complexity has implications for regulatory and security compliance. In an increasingly connected world with edge computing locations multiplying there is an increased surface for attack – which we have certainly seen exploited this year through the pandemic with switch to homeworking. This makes it more important than ever for businesses to stay on top of compliance, even as the pace of change quickens.
But CIOs can re-think and transform data management for the data era by taking on a few key actions. Firstly, democratising business data so that teams can easily find and access the high-quality, production-ready data sets they need to do their roles. Secondly, giving data engineers and data scientists easy access to the tools they need to deliver valuable business insights. And finally, deploying and managing data, applications and infrastructure in a consistent way across the entire IT landscape.
- Taking innovation to the edge
Gartner predicts that by 2022, more than 50% of enterprise data will be created and processed outside the data centre or cloud, up from less than 10% in 2019. Going forward, most data will be generated at the edge to be processed in real-time, spawning a new era of innovation the likes of which we’ve never seen. Smart vehicles will become autonomous, telehealth will remove barriers to healthcare and digital cities will enhance the lives of billions.
As data’s centre of gravity rapidly turns towards the edge, organisations are asking IT to deliver more and more of these real-time, quality-of-service, fraction-of-a-second functions in decentralised locations. Organisations are recognising that it’s not always practical to transfer distributed data to centralised infrastructure in a data centre or public cloud, in order to process and analyse the data in a timely way. Instead moving infrastructure closer to edge locations where the data is being generated and needs to be acted upon is key. This raises fresh questions of how to achieve a consistent infrastructure and data management approach across core to multiple cloud providers and large number of edge locations – and the challenge continues.
The reality is that there is no one-size fits all solution but CIOs can go someway to combatting these challenges. For example, creating a single operational hub from the core and hybrid cloud out to the edge and connecting it to an increasingly pervasive number of devices will help to reinforce consistent data management. Ensuring that a consistent development environment is maintained in which to build, run and manage modern apps. Investing in secure infrastructure edge management platforms, apps and devices is crucial in order to enable the generation and processing of vast amounts of data. Also, an education in the edge ecosystem will help CIOs understand how to tailor solutions most effectively to their business needs.
- People power: Setting culture and getting the team right
To reap the full value of business data, time needs to be applied to data innovation and monetisation. Yet according to Gartner, only 22% of data management teams’ time is actually spent on these areas. Firstly, this highlights an urgent need for a cultural reset, reinstating the value of innovation as a business critical function that must be prioritised, cultivated and celebrated.
This also shines a light on the mix of the many teams and individuals that often work with an organisation’s data – often representing different parts of an organisation with a unique set of objectives. A scattered approach to data teams makes it difficult to provide a focused and co-ordinated approach to data management.
Throwing more Data Scientists at the problem isn’t the answer, most organisations are missing the key data roles and skill sets they need to become an Intelligent Business. Data Scientists are highly skilled, highly specialised and in short supply, so they are a rare and expensive resource in most organisations. This makes the effective use of their time even more important and CIOs can counter this by asking how much of their Data Scientist’s time is actually spent on the Data Science tasks that deliver high value to your company, as opposed to being distracted with other responsibilities and tasks?
Once these three challenges are addressed, businesses will be in pole position to adapt to the demands of emerging technologies and consumer trends. With the right infrastructure, data management strategy and people in place, any business can thrive in the data era – but they must be united in their desire for innovation if they want to uncover the true value of their data.