Data: a small four-letter word which has grown exponentially to such a big value
It’s projected that by 2025 our global data volume will reach 175 zetabytes. To put this in physical terms, this translates to a stack of blu-ray discs that could reach the moon 23 times! So, in a nutshell, we produce a lot of data, but this is only the beginning.
Historically, people were responsible for the production of most data, however with the exponential growth of Internet of Things (IoT), machine and sensor produced data is by far the majority. We have also seen the introduction of important legislation across the globe, such as GDPR or CCPA, with China also announcing initiatives to encourage global standards around data security. Probably too little too late, but better late than never. In short, data is growing, people value it, and it is legislated. It’s not by chance that data has been labelled the “new gold”.
At this rate, it’s easy to get lost or overwhelmed trying to appreciate the data you generate or, even worse, by the challenge of turning data into a core facet of your business. Enterprises can become paralysed because they simply don’t know where to start. It’s quite frequent that CEOs instruct their teams to build dashboards or to invest in analytics solutions, without first considering defining a clear data strategy. Setting up a dashboard or investing in a data analytics solution is probably the easiest step in the journey. But what happens if you don’t have the data, or more likely, if you have lots of data but you cannot extract it and process it to make it available in the format that is required by your tools?
In recognising the strategic value of data, many forward thinking organisations have created positions in their C-level suite to allow for Chief Data Officers (CDOs). CDOs are responsible for setting a strategy to unlock the value of an organisation’s data. The best data strategies are tailored to the organisation’s needs and help the CDO engage necessary stakeholders, plan, implement strategic projects, develop partnerships across the organisation, and emphasise successes to drive a strategic mindset. This will ultimately lead the organisation to thrive and maintain a significant competitive advantage.
- Understand the sources of data – Data can come from a variety of sources. There are vast amounts of existing data that can be readily leveraged. More importantly, contemporary businesses have systems that can act as real-time sources of data that can be capitalised and used to make real-time decisions, as long as it’s done in a targeted manner without losing sight of the actual business challenges. IoT technologies play an increasingly important role in today’s business environment, especially for organisations that have physical processes and logistics. Understanding how existing data can be used and how an organisation can be enabled with IoT is a first, possibly the most important, step of the process.
- Structured or Unstructured Data? I’ll have one of everything please – Data gets collected in both structured and unstructured forms. Organisations usually tap into structured data, leaving unrealised value behind by not taking into consideration unstructured data. In fact, unstructured data typically represents most data in an organisation. With this in mind, organisations and data strategies should focus on what platforms they need to accommodate (e.g. data lakes)and process both types of data, therefore maximising the value they can capitalise for their business.
- Analysis, visualisation and real-time information – The speed at which data is converted into business insights is invaluable and can provide a huge competitive advantage. This means businesses should analyse collected data fast, as well as present results in useful, visual information. To analyse data quickly, enterprises need to consider the tools they use (e.g. business intelligence tools), the type of data they collect and how data is made accessible to end users. Furthermore, with data becoming ‘big data’, trawling through such volumes takes time and it’s where Cloud solutions could be considered beneficial, as they provide unlimited processing power to an organisation. However, this bring us to our next important consideration – data mobility.
- Data Mobility – With data being collected from multiple sources - on premise, remotely, but also through third parties -data needs to be transferred securely and effectively to where it will be processed. This comes at a cost. Investing in network, security and API tools, is to to be considered carefully. Modern technologies have evolved significantly and can enable companies to decentralise data processing to the source; one example being by leveraging Cloud solutions. Another important consideration is data gravity, i.e. it is critical to consider where data is stored in comparison to where it’s going to be used. With more and more organisations adopting Cloud solutions, it is crucial to also think about data lock-in. Whilst moving data into public cloud may appear easy and cheaper, moving data out or about comes at a cost that should be considered seriously in any Cloud migration business case.
- Governance & Compliance – Last but not least, it’s important for an organisation to place a significant focus on governing, securing data and complying to data regulations. The risks of data loss have increased dramatically, with attacks becoming more intelligent. To reduce exposing sensitive data, organisations could consider data-masking solutions or implement data security solutions requiring system authorisation instead of exposing sensitive data via the use of tokens. Unfortunately, the weakest link in the security posture of an organisation is humans. So, companies need to engage their workforce and promote a culture of privacy and security. This will make compliance and governance initiatives easier, as well as bring the workforce in a better position to comprehend the risks.
The above of course is not an exhaustive list, it is however a good starting point for any data strategy. C-suite executives should understand that turning data into actionable information is not an easy journey; and setting up the right foundations is crucial to coping with the exponential growth of data. Businesses, however, can start small and look at quick wins on the ground, in parallel to developing and executing their data strategy. This will not only start to deliver value early, but also provide motivation and engagement across the business for a more active use of data to enable more efficient decision-making.