Smarter data for you

Paying lip-service to data analysis is no longer good enough.

Muggie van Staden
By Muggie van Staden, CEO, Obsidian Systems.
Johannesburg, 20 Sept 2016

As this series examining data in an open source environment comes to its conclusion, let us take a look at the impact that better data analysis has for organisations. This is especially critical given how data has become the digital currency of business today.

Irrespective of the organisation or the industry in which it operates, data forms the foundation of what is required in the connected world. Adding to this importance is the fact that the number of data sources available to the company has increased phenomenally in recent years. Just consider the customer touch points alone - e-mail, phone calls, social media, online chat bots, and even faxes for the traditionalists. Then factor in the internal channels from a myriad of devices such as desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

The resultant 'big data' explosion is putting organisations and decision-makers under pressure to adapt their strategies more effectively than before. And due to the competitive nature of the environment, all of this has to happen in as real-time a fashion as possible.

Bringing data together

Fortunately, for the first time organisations are getting access to technology that links all the data from these disparate sources together to enable them to make better sense of it all. Fundamental to this, is how enterprise open source has contributed to this integration and analysis.

Think of technologies such as the Apache Spark open source processing engine developed to enable fast big data processing. This is laying the foundation for smarter data analysis which has become the Holy Grail for business today. Such innovations are contributing to the evolution of how data is analysed and business expectations of doing everything not only faster but better in order to improve efficiencies.

Without open source, none of this would have been possible. Just like in all other facets of ICT development, not having open systems would severely limit innovation. One just needs to look at how many traditional proprietary IT companies have changed their approaches to be more open and embracing of the principles of open source.

Valuating data

The most pressing question that remains is how do companies value their data? Can a rand and cent value really be put on a business document or other important files? Using a framework like Hadoop that is designed to support the processing of large data sets in a distributed computing environment, enables the development of infrastructures designed to get value out of data.

This leads to the natural evolution of data in the sense of not only being able to effectively store it, but also analyse it for business value. The recent movement towards the Internet of things is another sign that more value needs to be derived out of data for companies to make better decisions. Also, they need to be able to analyse the data received from all these connected devices in such a way that competitive advantage can be derived from it.

Irrespective of the organisation or the industry in which it operates, data forms the foundation of what is required in the connected world.

In all of this, it is amazing to see how data is being utilised on open source systems. Every business wants to be data-driven and open source provides the platform to do so. Of course, traditional rules around security and governance cannot fall by the wayside. In this data-driven environment, it is security that provides the glue around which data analysis is developed.

Getting the basics right

This is especially important given the extent at which data is in motion, is analysed, and enters and leaves the back-end network. Getting the combination between real-time analysis (or as close to it as possible) and effective security right, is one of the fundamental challenges of the digital business.

With open source data tools providing decision-makers with fresher and more flexible solutions to traditional proprietary ones, there is significant interest to embrace these solutions. But while the temptation is there to rush in to a data analysis mindset, decision-makers need to remember that there needs to be a business fit for it.

On its own, analysing data means very little if there is not a willingness to integrate its learnings into the business strategy. Paying lip-service to analysis is no longer good enough. Companies need to embrace data analysis from the top down and show its virtues to all staff members. This will not only result in a nimbler organisation, but one that is able to reduce costs by customising its products and services more effectively to meet the changing needs of customers.

In the ultra-competitive environment, this becomes as much a business enabler as it does a competitive advantage. And the key to all of this? The embracing of open source principles.