IN-DEPTH: Data is the lifeblood of a modern organisation, but is it time to treat it as distinct from technology? Sooraj Shah investigates
Indeed, that goes against everything that organisations are currently striving to achieve; less siloes, more integration, and ultimately a better customer experience because of departments working closer together.
Besides, even if data is thought of as a separate sector – it is hard to separate it from the technology aspect, according to NHS Blood & Transplant Chief Digital Officer Aaron Powell.
“There are skills within the data science and analytics space which are advancing and moving rapidly, but whether that becomes a separate profession from the technology itself, I’m not so sure yet – I think it’s early days,” he states.
The lifeblood of the organisation
But many IT professions have seen a similar trajectory, including the likes of Microsoft Exchange and SQL administrators.
“Previously, you had to have your own network, your own firewall, physical infrastructure on those servers, Windows on those servers which had to be patched and you had to have Exchange administrators who were deeply competent – it was a very specific set of skills,” says Mark Ridley, group CTO of Blenheim Chalcot.
Because of the growth of cloud computing, there has been a democratisation within some of the skills in IT, which has led to businesses being able to fix business outcomes.
Currently, data is in a similar place to where IT was several years ago.
“There are some very technical roles within data. If you look at data science there are some very difficult skills needed as well as a good understanding of statistics and a background in maths. The skills are also not just purely technical, there is an intellectual capability needed too,” adds Ridley.
As the area develops further, different departments are likely to be able to make better use of technologies such as AI, visualisation, machine learning and IoT without the need for high-level expertise – the same way that IT has evolved.
Ridley emphasizes that he doesn’t believe that ‘data’ is necessarily a subset of technology. But while it may be considered a separate entity, it does require technology to be valuable.
“One of the main changes we have witnessed in the past decade is not only the amount of data we can produce and analyse through AI and other technologies, but the amount and variety of information these technologies can help us unlock from the data,” says Dr Laura Ferraiulo, from the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN).
“The most fascinating aspect for me is that we have always produced datasets with a certain aim in mind and technology is now allowing us to interrogate much larger pools of data, thus giving us access to information we did not even know we had generated.”