There is a lot of hype and conjecture around the impact of emerging technology, but one thing is certain: data is – and will continue to be – the key to digital business.
More than 59 zettabytes (ZB) of data will be created, captured, copied, and consumed in the world this year, according to a new update to the Global DataSphere report from IDC. IDC also predicted that the amount of data created over the next three years will be more than the data created over the past 30 years, and the world will create three times more data over the next five years than it did in the previous five.a
This never-ending process of information creation fuels digital business. IT departments and data scientists are charged with helping their companies develop game-changing insight into customer demands, market opportunities and enterprise priorities.
Such is the level of demand for data that analyst Gartner says business leaders require an ever-increasing velocity and scale of analysis in terms of both processing information and providing access to innovation.
Yet recognising that you need more data quickly is simply a starting point. Companies that really want to make the most of data both now and in the future will need to create a nuanced approach to data collection, analysis and exploitation.
Breaking down the silos
While business leaders recognise the value of data, they don’t necessarily appreciate how hard it is to analyse the right information at the right time. There’s a lack of consideration about how information might be used by different people in different circumstances.
Gartner says too many business units undertake data or analytics projects individually. This isolated way of working means data resides in silos. Data is only prescribed for one purpose to a particular team, such as understanding regional sales figures.
That kind of data analysis has a valuable purpose. But what if the business wants to delve deeper? What if the finance team wants to compare those regional sales figures with other countries'? What if the marketing team wants to take that comparative regional breakdown and investigate how it can sell products via enticing deals?
If data is locked away in silos, then it’s far too difficult to create deeper, cross-organisation relationships. That inability to collaborate effectively hampers business growth. As data is the key to creating a competitive advantage, then the proliferation of information silos is a short-cut to failure.
Making data accessible to all who need it
The task now is for business leaders to find a better route. Organisations that want to make the most of the ever-increasing amount of information need to restructure how they exploit knowledge. They must break down the walls between departments, so that data is accessible for anyone who needs it, at any time.
Reaching that point is going to require a significant shift in mindset for most organisations. Right now, many employees fixate on their current challenge – they focus almost single-mindedly on how data can provide an answer to a single question at one point in time.
If they have an effective data-management policy, then they’ll also think about how this information is stored and backed up. These considerations are absolutely critical for any organisation that wants to use its information in a secure and governable manner.
Yet these considerations should also be seen as table stakes. Detailed international and local regulatory requirements, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) in Singapore and Malaysia, come with the risk of severe financial penalties, meaning every employee should manage data safely and securely as a matter of course. That’s an IT challenge to some degree, but a business process point too.
But what if you want to go deeper? What if you want to use that well-managed data to create cross-business collaborations that will gain your business a competitive advantage? Then the answer must be to focus on how data is recalled, presented and contextualised, so that the insight you create is useful not just today but also tomorrow. It may even lead to businesses of the future having an analyst within their team, or someone who can be seconded to support a data-first project. Whichever way, the data will be considerably more accessible at a function or team level, than before.
Creating deeper insight
Bear in mind that the sources of data will continue to increase. Researcher IDC says the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) is already contributing to significant market growth in tech spending. Within five to ten years, new technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality will expand to represent over 25% of IT spending.
With that growth in mind, now is the time to think about how your organisation recalls, presents and contextualises its information. You will need to take data management to the next level of development – one where the cross-business insight you create is drawn from multiple structured and unstructured data sources.
The aim must be to create a unified approach to data where any verified user can refer to a single interface to access all enterprise information. Let’s think back to our earlier example: through this interface, the marketer can easily pull together a cross-regional comparison of sales figures to understand how different products sell best in specific locations. Not only that, they’ll be able to draw on disparate sources of information – be that social media sentiment or wider industry trends – to work out why these sales figures are occurring and how the business might exploit these variations to drive new revenues.
In short, to achieve a higher level of data management prowess, you need to elevate the technology and process to a point where users don’t even have to think about current protection considerations such as backup and recovery. This new approach creates a single and verifiable version of the truth where users have easy access to the data they need when they need it – and they create deeper and more valuable insight for the business and its customers. It might seem like a stretch for some right now, but in reality, defrag your mindset and your data, and you’ll achieve the data-first vision you seek.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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