More important that consolidating all that siloed data, organizations should defrag their fragmented thinking, argues this data defragging expert.

In 2021, more than 59ZB (Zetabytes) of data will have been created, captured, copied, and consumed in the world, according to an IDC report.

The market research firm has also predicted that the amount of data created over the next three years will be more than the data created over the past 30 years, and that likelihood that the world will create three times more data over the next five years than it did in the previous five.

This never-ending process of information creation fuels digital business. IT departments and data scientists are charged with helping their companies develop game-changing insights into customer demands, market opportunities and enterprise priorities.

Yet, recognizing that you need more data quickly is simply a starting point. Companies that really want to make the most of data both now and in the future will need to create a nuanced approach to data collection, analysis and exploitation. 

Breaking down the silos

While business leaders recognize the value of data, they may not necessarily appreciate how hard it is to analyze the right information at the right time. There is a lack of consideration about how information may be used by different people in different circumstances.

Research firm Gartner has noted that too many business units undertake data or analytics projects individually. This isolated way of working means data resides in silos: data is only prescribed for one purpose to a particular team, such as understanding regional sales figures. That kind of data analysis has a valuable purpose, but what if the business wants to delve deeper?

What if the finance team wants to compare those regional sales figures with those of other countries? What if the marketing team wants to take that comparative regional breakdown and investigate how it can sell more products via enticing deals?

If data is locked away in silos, then it becomes far too difficult to create deeper, intra-organizational relationships. That inability to collaborate can hamper business growth. If data is the key to creating a competitive advantage, then the proliferation of information silos is a short-cut to failure.

Democratizing data accessibility

The task now is for business leaders to find a better route. Organizations that want to make the most of the ever-increasing amount of information need to restructure how they exploit knowledge. They must break down the walls between departments, so that data is accessible for anyone who needs it, at any time. 

Reaching that point is going to require a significant shift in mindset for most organizations. Right now, many employees fixate on their current challenge: they focus almost single-mindedly on how data can provide an answer to a single question at one point in time.

If they have an effective data-management policy, then they will also think about how this information is stored and backed up. These considerations are absolutely critical for any organization that wants to use its information in a secure and governable manner.

Yet, these considerations should also be seen as table stakes. Data privacy and protection laws worldwide are mandating severe corporate due diligence, meaning every employee must manage data safely and securely as a matter of course. That is an IT challenge to some degree, but a business process point, too.

But what if you want to go deeper? What if you want to use that well-managed data to create cross-business collaborations that will gain your business a competitive advantage? Then the answer must be to focus on how data is recalled, presented and contextualized, so that the insight you create is useful not just today but also tomorrow.

This may even lead to businesses of the future having an analyst within their teams, or someone who can be seconded to support a data-first project. Whichever way that pans out, data will be considerably more accessible at a functional or team level, than ever before.

Creating deeper insights

Bear in mind that the sources of data will continue to increase. Researchers at IDC say the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) is already contributing to significant market growth in tech spending. Within five to 10 years, new technologies such as robotics, AI and virtual reality will expand to represent over 25% of IT spending.

With that growth in mind, now is the time to think about how your organization recalls, presents and contextualizes its information. You will need to take data management to the next level of development: one where the cross-business insight you create is drawn from multiple structured and unstructured data sources.

The aim must be to create a unified approach to data where any verified user can refer to a single interface to access all enterprise information. If we take the aforementioned example, through a liberalizing data access interface, any marketer can easily pull together a cross-regional comparison of sales figures to understand how different products sell best in specific locations.

Not only that, markets will be able to draw on disparate sources of information to work out why these sales figures are occurring and how the business can exploit these variations to drive new revenues.

In short, to achieve a higher level of data management prowess, organizations need to elevate the technology and process to a point where users do not even have to think about current protection considerations such as backup and recovery. Just creates a single and verifiable version of the truth (the proverbial “single source of truth”) that sees verified users gaining easy access to the data they need when they need it.

The resulting deeper and more valuable insights will benefit both the business and its customers. It may seem like a stretch for some right now, but in reality, defrag your mindset and your data, and you will achieve the data-first vision you seek.