Turning big data into actionable insights

As we cross the mid-mark of 2018, organizations are looking to shift from a data-generating to a data-powered mindset. Disruptive data technologies need to create value that can be used to drive business decisions.

That was the clear message at a recent roundtable discussion on data management strategies, hosted by Veritas and ITWC.  CIOs and IT professionals from a range of industries say that one of their biggest challenges is managing the growing volumes of data in today’s increasingly fragmented enterprise systems environment.

Most IT executives say they’re still looking for the right solutions and best practices to solve the problem.  The discussion at the conference provided some surprising answers.

The best data strategy may be one of elimination

One of the primary concerns faced by attendees – and likely all modern enterprises – is deriving value from massive amounts of unorganized data.

The solution? Begin by eliminating whatever you can.

The majority of data is “rot”, said Brian Mead, senior manager at Veritas Canada. “Everyone understands the value of their data. But according to the worldwide surveys we’ve done at Veritas, enterprises are dealing with legacy systems and data, 70%-80% of which is rot. This data is not being used by anyone, has no foreseeable use, and isn’t necessary for regulatory purposes.  What this means is that, whatever method we use to store and process new data, we first need to get rid of the rot. The good news is that removing this useless data isn’t necessarily complex. Simple metadata searches, such as who created data or used it last, can surface junk data to be gotten rid of.”

So why are companies allowing rot data to bloat their system and increase their storage costs unnecessarily? IT teams are hesitant to delete old data out of worry that it may one day become useful, said Mead. This represents an opportunity for IT leaders to step up and decide what data stays, and what data goes.

The cloud: should I stay or should I go?

As the public cloud technology improves, many enterprises are increasing their cloud commitments.

Financial institutions are finally warming to the cloud, noted one executive from a managed services provider. “In the last three-to-six months, we’re hearing our finance clients ask for the first time ‘why can’t this info go into the cloud?’, said the executive. “The cloud is now not only perceived as a secure option.  Cloud providers can take the burden of managing regulatory compliance off the shoulders of organizations.”

But it’s not all clear skies on the forecast when it comes to cloud. Another executive from the managed services sector predicted that, in the next six months, companies will begin to question the value of locking their data in with a particular cloud vendor.

“Several years ago we saw a shift to outsourced and managed services,” said Lawrence Alexander, General Manager at Veritas Canada. “Now, companies are watching their costs grow beyond what they anticipated. At Veritas, we encourage our clients to remain agile. If it makes sense to move disaster recovery and backup to the cloud right now, do it. When it no longer makes sense, pull that data into colocation or on-premises facilities. And whatever you do, don’t rely on a single environment for all your data needs. The public cloud, colocation hosted data centres, and on-premises infrastructures all carry unique risk, and trusting just one with your data is a gamble most companies can’t afford.”

Making data actionable starts at ingestion

The overarching concern at the conference was how to turn data into actionable insights. “We’re in the infancy of trying to figure out how to take disparate, seemingly random bits of data and turn them into valuable information,” said one attendee.

Mead stressed the need to remain agile. “As companies gather data, they need a processing strategy,” he said. “By tagging data with metadata as it is being ingested, you can maximize it on its way into your system, indexing as it’s being written. This saves an incredible amount of time. It also allows you to quickly uncover any mistakes you’re making, fail quick, and improve your processes.”

Small data is the answer

In many ways, the problem of big data presents a paradox. “While we may be taking longer than we’d hoped to reach maturity in the world of data, we’ve come to an important understanding,” said Jim Love, CIO at ITWC. For all the talk of big data, what organizations are after is small data – the reduction of big data to an actionable insight.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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