How will businesses recover from the pandemic? It’s a question many leaders are asking. One key element of the recovery for all enterprises no matter their size, will be the use of data. According to the latest research from Seagate 65% of SMB decision-makers polled across the USA, China, UK, Germany, South Korea, and Taiwan are looking to efficient data management to aid their COVID-19 recovery.
Despite the rapid and unexpected shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, existing SMB IT infrastructure proved resilient, according to Seagate’s research. More than half (54%) of SMB decision-makers reported no difficulty in accessing files or company data remotely, and 61% reported similar productivity levels to when their employees are in the office. Also. 45% of SMB decision-makers reported that their company’s existing data infrastructure was more resilient than expected during the pandemic.
Nearly two thirds (65%) of SMB decision-makers say that their post-COVID-19 recovery strategy is being informed by the data they have stored about their business. The pandemic has sparked a reassessment of the value of business data among SMB decision-makers: more than half (55%) say they recognise the value of their business data more than before the pandemic.
Speaking to Silicon UK, Alessandra de Paula, director of Channel Marketing EMEA at Seagate Technology said: “Most firms will undergo some form of digital transformation in the coming years, and many will have started already – very possibly because of COVID. The question isn’t whether they will, it’s how quickly and effectively they will.
“Implementing the discipline of DataOps, defined by IDC as the ‘discipline of connecting data creators with data consumers’, encourages the free-flowing movement of data between groups. This ensures employees have the data they need when they need it, and so they can put it to its best use – empowering the company to make a success of its digital transformation.”
Also, Joe Lichtenberg, Product and Industry Marketing, InterSystems explains: “Gaining data visibility is a significant challenge. Businesses need visibility to understand what’s happening at the moment, especially as crises and unplanned events occur, and data silos, the use of many different systems, islands of automation, and organisational silos all hinder their ability to get this. Digital transformation has been attempting to address these deficiencies to improve operational efficiencies, but we now know that successful digital transformation is about more than improving efficiencies. It’s also about enabling the required flexibility, agility, and resiliency to respond to crises and take advantage of the opportunities they create.”
Digital transformation roadmaps have been radically redrawn as the pandemic has reshaped businesses. Looking forward a deeper understanding of each business’s marketplace, the customers these contain and, how a workforce will use data in the near future, are critical components of a data strategy all enterprises need to ensure they weather the COVID data storm intact and, can prosper post-pandemic.
A new term will find increasing exposure over the next year: Gartner defines data fabrics as: “frictionless access and sharing of data in a distributed data environment. It enables a single and consistent data management framework, which allows seamless data access and processing by design across otherwise siloed storage. Through 2022, bespoke data fabric designs will be deployed primarily as a static infrastructure, forcing organisations into a new wave of cost to completely re-design for more dynamic data mesh approaches.”
InterSystems’s Joe Lichtenberg explains to Silicon UK: “Currently, very few businesses understand this – in part due to the fact there are lots of buzzwords used in the industry. The idea of leveraging data fabrics is to provide access to data from inside and outside the organisation, in a format that can be used for reporting, visibility, analysis, and scenario planning, for example.
“However, this is a challenge as access to consistent, harmonised data is the price of entry for all of these kinds of initiatives, but currently many organisations have data that is so siloed and in different formats. Business know they need access to more data, from more sources, with lower latency, and with better governance/provenance, but they are less aware of how to make it happen – especially from a tech perspective.”
Businesses have always gathered information from a range of sources internally and externally. Post COVID-19, these datasets will expand, but it’s how this information is integrated and interrogated for tangible value is where radical change will need to take place. The digital transformation roadmaps many firms have been implementing will be re-focused with a more defined data core.
How businesses now operate with remote mass working commonplace and set to redefine an enterprise’s structure, how highly sensitive data is collected, stored, manipulated and shared has become a critical consideration for all companies.
Says Tim Callan, Senior Fellow at Sectigo: “The switch to home-working has challenged IT departments to secure data across more devices, operating systems and protocols. From a security perspective, this places more emphasis on devices outside the IT department’s traditional perimeters. Securing devices across employees’ home internet connections and outside of the corporate network has become more critical, with automation becoming crucial for identity-based authentication, digital signatures and encryption.
“Security administrators will increasingly rely on automation for issuing, discovering, renewing, revoking and replacing digital certificates as they grow in number. Interoperability will also become a greater priority across devices, operating systems, protocols and chipsets, with administrators seeking more consolidated visibility in the cloud and behind the firewall.”
Callan concluded: “When it comes to business recovery, IT leaders must ensure that their distributed network is protected through certification and other levels of encryption and, do their utmost to automate as many of these processes as possible.”
Clearly, any discussion of data strategies will inevitably mention the cloud. Indeed, according to MariaDB that looked at overall cloud and database trends with IT leaders, including the impact of COVID-19 on IT decisions, ‘databases moving to the cloud’ (52%), “moving analytic data to the cloud” (43%) and ‘database automation’ (43%) as the top three most impactful cloud trends this year. In the UK specifically, respondents identified ‘databases moving to the cloud’ (50%), ‘multi-cloud becoming a reality’ (45%) and ‘moving analytic data to the cloud’ (43%) as the top trends, indicating multi-cloud is a key factor for UK companies.
“Moving analytic data to the cloud is proving to be one of the hottest tech trends this year,” said Franz Aman, CMO at MariaDB Corporation. “Taken together, the top three trends reflect the hunger for cloud data warehouses and database services that eliminate manual operations by automating tasks such as installs, upgrades, backups and more.
“While we expect to see an accelerated use of cloud databases as more applications move to the cloud, we also expect to see a dramatic shift toward multi-cloud support becoming a requirement in 2021. The key is giving companies the ability to source cloud services from more than one big player to gain leverage and insulation from the large-scale outages we have seen,” said Aman.
How your enterprise leverages the data, it already has, and the data it continues to collect will be a critical component of your company’s recovery post-COVID-19.
Sectigo’s Tim Callan concluded: “Businesses with better information about customers, markets and rivals have always had an advantage, but the growing use of structured data has made finding the appropriate management tools imperative. At the same time, with employees connecting to company systems in every conceivable configuration, security has come to the forefront like never before. Automating the management of the myriad digital identities across the enterprise is the best answer to the challenge this poses to businesses.”
More data is not the answer to a COVID recovery, but more intelligent use of the information that is available is. All enterprises, no matter their size, have a rich resource that can be leveraged to become a valuable asset. Better data management and insight will be the cornerstone of many business’s recovery as the world moves out of the pandemic.
Matt Shearer, director of Production Innovation, Data Language.
If more efficient data management is the key to a business’s recovery post COVID, what are the challenges enterprises face?
“More efficient data management is fundamentally a means to an end, where the end is business adaptability and ultimately recovery and growth.
“The first challenge is to establish a map of your organisation’s core information, data and related pain points. Involve your employees in this, spend some time and tease the information out. Believe me, the value locked in their heads is a large part of your core business advantage. Identify together where your data could be better structured to provide value to new services, new experiments and new product ranges.
“This is an area that enterprises typically find difficult because interesting technology distracts them. People aren’t so different from magpies, but enterprises need to recognise and manage this tendency.
The key is not to reach for a ‘buzzword’ technology because it’s new and shiny but instead evaluate your core data. Ask yourself, and your employees that work closely with this information. How can we improve this? Where can we reduce duplication? How can we ensure that we aren’t creating or maintaining information silos across the business?
“Once you have identified where the opportunities for improvement are, the second challenge is to prioritise where to invest time and resources. This should be the areas of your business that are either mission-critical to your operations or are core differentiators. An ability to innovate rapidly around your core differentiators must be the goal as this will set your enterprise up to come back fighting post-COVID.
“The final major challenge that most enterprises face on the road to efficient data management is the tendency to deal with any data issues ‘later’. The patterns of data disorganisation that we see with all types of enterprise in all sectors can be devastatingly expensive but are not always visible.
“This is usually not due to mistakes but is most often a side-effect of organic business evolution, regretfully recognised only in hindsight. This creates increasingly expensive legacy issues that are complex to resolve, and unwittingly stymies innovation. Instead, challenge yourself to think ahead – How might we make our core data and information more useful for the project after this one? And the one after that?”
Do businesses understand data fabrics and how they can be leveraged to deliver digital transformation post-COVID?
“Data fabrics encompasses a wide range of data processes and technologies, each with a spectrum of implementation possibilities. As such, the question is really whether businesses understand what data technologies they should leverage to deliver their digital transformation. Unfortunately, for the most part, the answer is no.
“Enterprises tend to see digital transformation as a single challenge to be resolved, but this is a fundamental misunderstanding – digital transformation is an ongoing process, rather than one with an end goal. It is all about setting yourself up for repeated and continued success and being able to move rapidly come what may, whether the challenge is a new competitor, a global pandemic, or something else unforeseen.”
Where should businesses make investments today to leverage the data they have to the best advantage?
“First, enterprises should invest time in analysing their data and information management and challenge their team on how these processes should change to support ongoing innovation. ‘Ongoing’ is the crucial word here. It is easy to look at the immediate changes that need making and capabilities that an enterprise wants to deliver as a priority, but what will add real value is looking ahead to the future. Try to model the next three or four initiatives and capabilities you will prioritise over the next 12-24 months and test the design of your information management against this.”
If remote mass working becomes the norm, how will more efficient data management have to become a critical component of business processes?
“If remote mass working became a long-term norm, and in-person interactions decreased, then it will be important to have business intelligence more readily available for your core systems. In a world where gathering tacit knowledge from your office interactions is no longer available, we will need to get the right data to and from the right people in a more deliberate way.
“Like other areas of digital transformation, this is informed by developing a living map and shared vision of your organisation’s data landscape, which can then inform new project initiatives to connect employees with the right information.
“Having this shared understanding generates new incremental innovation opportunities when any project solves a new problem. Truly agile organisations use this shared vision to enable more devolved incremental innovation.”
Is it a mistake to forget that better data management requires a human component, as data for its own sake is useless?
“Absolutely! Looking too rapidly to automation, and ignoring the human component, is a growing issue. The fundamentals of good data management have not changed in recent years, but emerging technologies are more distracting than ever.
“Technology-led initiatives often do the opposite of improving data management. Tools can prescribe the ways of working and dictate the shape of data; discouraging collaboration and understanding of the business-wide data landscape. Technology and tools are implementation details to be decided after developing a well-considered and shared vision of your data landscape. Technology must be selected to support this vision and to support how it can be improved over time to serve the needs of your business.
“Identifying the core expertise held in an enterprise, understanding its data structures, and developing a shared map of this is a human activity that should be the starting point for all digital transformation initiatives. From there, a model can be developed with priority activities forming the core. Only once this has been achieved can you lean on machine learning, robotic process automation, and other technologies to improve data management. The human component is foundational to better data management – but that’s not to say that humans must always be directly involved.
“Enterprises need to reduce their fixation with jargon – it doesn’t add value. The fundamental challenges in optimising your business for ongoing innovation have not changed in the last ten years. It also can’t be said enough that enterprises need to think before they choose their tools and technologies. Getting your data foundations in place, and ‘fixing the plumbing’, may not be exciting or sexy, but they form the crucial first steps. To some extent, agile methodologies can steer teams away from getting these foundations solid, in a rush to deliver real business value. Good CTOs and CIOs have their eye on this tendency and will help you prioritise your strategic data priorities.”
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash.