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Manning the floodgates

The influx of data over the past decade has left organisations with more data to manage than ever. The ability to effectively obtain and strategically manage data has since become a competitive differentiator among enterprises.floodgate

IDC predicted that over 44 zettabytes of data will be generated around the world by 2020. Social media metrics, wearable devices and sophisticated data mining tools are seen as the primary contributors to the upsurge in data, further driving the need for data management.

Although many enterprises are significantly investing in enhancing their core systems and new technologies, most of their efforts still fall short; since data is now recognised as a strategic asset, simply tweaking existing systems is no longer enough. Strategically redefining the way information is gathered, stored, defined, governed, analysed, and utilised are key to truly harness the benefits of data.

Enterprise data management (EDM) ensures data is managed to its full potential to guarantee that the right information continues to get to people when and how they need it to do their jobs effectively. It is an important process in understanding and controlling the economics of data in your organisation. Although having an EDM strategy in place is not essentially a requisite to benefit from your data, the proper application of EDM can help ensure better integration, control, and usability of the information gathered.

“Most organisations in today’s IT landscape are facing similar bottlenecks when it comes to managing their data,” says Amer Chebaro, Regional Director, Gulf and Levant, Veritas. “Challenges faced by enterprises today are mainly around formulating ways to manage the unprecedented upswing in data volumes. Moreover, while the data surge will only continue in the next five years, IT budgets in most organisations are not increasing at the same rate, at the same time talents with the apt skillsets required are hard to find.”

Amjad Zaim , Senior Associate, Technology and Analytics, Booz Allen Hamilton MENA, complements this notion, explaining that organisations worldwide are confronted with the mounting challenge of having to innovate in a very competitive digital marketplace. “This is further complicated by rapidly-changing consumer and market behaviours. For decision-makers, the need to make accurate, intelligent and timely business decision from a wide range of disparate data sources, both internal – such as  customer, finance and human resources – as well as newly emerging open data from social media and the web has become more critical than ever.”

Having a sound EDM strategy can pave the way for enterprises to unlock a number of opportunities for growth. Data, when utilised properly, can enable organisations to devise a more precise and competitive business strategy.

“An effective strategy for EDM,” explains Zaim, “has to answer all the fundamental questions about how to best serve the right data product to the right user in the most reliable, secure, and ethical manner.”

He elaborates that although Big Data technologies and infrastructure are key enablers for massive data storage, consolidation and analysis are but just a few pillars of an EDM strategy. An overarching EDM strategy needs to examine and incorporate all the essential non-technical challenges across the entire data lifecycle while aligning all stakeholders’ needs and benefits. Some of these will include answers to the following:

  • How to best govern the data and who has ownership and stewardship of data.
  • How to protect individuals and data privacy by enacting the right policies to manage data access, data sharing and data security.
  • How to map these policies into a set of processes related to data governance and data management across the enterprise.
  • How to build a common language for data sharing through unified data standards and terminologies.
  • How to maximise the integrity and the quality of the information through implementing an enterprise-wide programme for routine data audits and data qualities?

Meanwhile, Chebaro says that Veritas recommends a four-point EDM strategy which includes identifying dark data, eliminating obsolete, redundant and trivial data, defining a workable governance strategy, and increasing business agility through cloud adoption.

“The first point refers to data that is unknown or does not fall into any specific classification within the organisation,” explains Chebaro. “A survey conducted by Veritas surprisingly uncovered that several companies in the UAE have 49 percent dark data. So, identifying dark data is a key element to an EDM strategy and this is complemented by the second point which is the elimination of redundant, obsolete and trivial data.”

According to Chebaro, data that falls under these categories should be either deleted, stored in the cloud, or archived outside the organisation’s core infrastructure. “Thirdly, companies should devise a workable governance strategy,” he says. “This involves educating people within the company on how to differentiate which data should and should not be stored in the corporate network. Knowing the difference between the two can impact both cost and security requirements of the infrastructure. Lastly, increasing business agility through cloud adoption. Currently, only 20 percent of UAE organisations are able to adopt cloud technologies, according to a study by EY. This is very low compared to other nations in the EMEA region. Organisations should boost their initiatives in adopting technologies as this can be instrumental in enhancing business agility.”

As with many things in enterprise IT, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to formulating an EDM strategy. “The majority of market verticals in MENA are still struggling with the nuances of EDM for unstructured data, specifically how to properly leverage the value of their data,” says Zaim. “Both the telecom and the retail industries are leading the way in the deployment of EDM in response to data monetisation initiatives. Recently, there has been an increase in interest and number of initiatives in the health sector albeit at a very managed pace.”

Adding to this, Chebaro points out that various organisations have their own EDM strategies in place in one form or another. Nevertheless, it is definitely prevalent in highly governed verticals – these are the industry segments that are required to adhere to strict local or international compliance policies. “Companies in these sectors are also those that use data confidentiality and security as part of their unique selling points, such as the banking and finance, and healthcare sectors,” he explains.

Today, numerous technologies that can help businesses better their EDM strategies are available. Technologies like Hadoop allow companies to easily manage vast amounts of data in a simple and practical way. It can also condense big problems into smaller elements so that analysis can be done quickly and cost-effectively.

“Hadoop can facilitate data analytics at scale,” says Zaim. “It can also enable analysts to probe and analyse terabytes of fast-moving data in seconds. Keep in mind that Hadoop is now a 10+ year-old technology, introducing MapReduce techniques to the masses, but it sparked a new industry of analytic computing platforms. Emerging Big Data technologies are getting faster, easy to use and more sophisticated, thus, creating increased opportunities for organisations to manage and analyse massive amounts of data, efficiently and effectively through a business-oriented view.”

Chebaro shares the same view, stating that since the beginning of the digital age. zettabytes of data are now being. “Most, companies doing business from that time period until now have been storing large scales of data and applications. Hadoop and other similar technologies are useful in horizontally scaling and analysing significant amounts of data. It deals with both structured and unstructured data across the organisation and enables organisations to extract their value.”

When it comes to storing and managing the organisation’s data, questions often arise on whether it should be in the cloud or on-premise. Many enterprises today are built from the ground up on cloud infrastructure, both for production IT and internal IT operations.  However, the vast majority of large enterprises still run much of their IT operations internally.

According to Chebaro, data management solutions often vary from one customer to another, but looking at a data management strategy in general, the flexibility offered by hybrid cloud infrastructure is a more strategic option.  “Currently, there are cloud providers who are offering low data storage costs if you would like to manage or store your data that are non-business critical and do not need to be accessed in a matter of sub-milliseconds then the public cloud serves your needs well.

“However, for business critical data which needs to be secured and accessed quickly,” he adds, “it is apt to consider keeping it on-premise instead. Now, it is unavoidable for organisations to have to deal with surging volumes of both structured and unstructured data, therefore, opting for a hybrid cloud is highly reasonable.”

Zaim agrees, stressing that a hybrid cloud environment provides organisations with the opportunity to balance the benefits of private and public cloud. “They can use this environment to experiment and rapidly integrate new external data sources into a processing platform with relaxed policies,” he says. “However, the value of integrating data and applications on the public cloud with their private cloud environment should consider the increased occurrences of data privacy violations and cybersecurity attacks.”

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