IN-DEPTH: Data is the lifeblood of a modern organisation, but is it time to treat it as distinct from technology? Sooraj Shah investigates
Data and technology are largely synonymous, even though the term was used to describe information far before the rise of computing.
Its meaning, at least in boardrooms, has expanded significantly, as businesses realise the strategic importance of storing, managing and exploiting data.
But has data – with the rise of big buzzwords such as big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) – finally become big enough to be considered a sector of its own?
Camden Council interim CIO Omid Shiraji certainly believes so.
Data v Technology
“Data is an emerging sector. People have been sticking it into the technology sector when they talk about data, but we think it’s something separate and that the sector will bring enormous amounts of value to the economy,” he says, explaining that Camden is therefore positioning itself as the centre of data in London.
Shiraji references a report by SAS and the Centre for Economics and Business Research from last year, which suggested that big data and IoT are set to be worth £322 billion to the UK economy, or 2.7 percent of GDP, by 2020.
Big data and IoT are about the analysis of data rather than the storage of it – and it is this that has become a huge strategic asset for organisations and what is driving the question of whether data should be considered a standalone sector.
Supporting this drive is the fact that many businesses are hiring Chief Data Officers (CDOs) to manage the data flow of the entire organisation, while others have been transforming to make better use of their existing data, or have increased the scope of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role to take into account the various aspects of data.
Those businesses who employ a CDO argue that it enables a key individual to get a better overview of data across each and every department, from the sales and marketing teams to those in IT.
So with this increase in CDOs in businesses, should data be separated from IT – with CIOs and CTOs looking after ‘technology’ and CDOs looking after ‘data’?
According to Andy Hoare, head of ICT at Wolverhampton Council, the sheer amount of work that goes into managing data properly means that it should be seen as a separate sector.
“It is probably the most valuable asset that many organisations have, and there are many different elements around managing it appropriately: the security of data; GDPR; knowing where it came from; what it should be used for; understanding the relationships between data and sources; and what affects your data sources,” he says.
“It is too big of a field to be a part of IT or information governance, it should be a sector in its own right,” he adds.
Defining ‘data’ and ‘technology’
In order to really understand whether data should move out of the shadows of IT, Clive Longbottom, analyst at Quocirca, suggests that the two terms should firstly be defined.
“Technology would be all of the hardware stack along with the software stack that creates the data. By data, we would have to assume that it goes beyond the ones and zeros and includes the analysis of such data into information,” he states.
“If this is the case then data must be seen as different, but I would not say a ‘different sector’, as that starts to create yet more borders within an organisation where borders should be erased.”