The Data Debate: Where do we go next?
Companies need to find better ways of dealing with the huge amounts of data they generate. But in tackling this problem, organisations could also discover new ways of working. silicon.com editor Steve Ranger reports. A PDF of this feature, along with a feature on how to build a credible enterprise storage cloud is available here
Knowledge is power, but too much data is a disaster. One of the greatest challenges for businesses is to gather more knowledge without drowning in the floods of information that now flow through every organisation.
Even at the most basic, personal level, this ongoing data overload is easy to recognise. For example, according to a recent poll by silicon.com, one in three workers gets more than 100 emails a day - and 10 per cent get more than 250. Add to that figure an individual's social media network and the flows of data rapidly become too great for any individual to navigate. Data overwhelms productivity.
Replicate those volumes across an entire business and the data flows quickly become a raging, unstoppable torrent. As well as the data coming from existing ERP and CRM systems, the growing use of social networking as a business tool has added another level of real-time data that has to be managed and responded to.
And this is the situation many organisations face today. Too much data and no way of recognising whether it has value. This issue is at the heart of the Data Debate that silicon.com has been conducting throughout much of this year, in the form of events, videos, polls and special features.
The CIO and knowledge
"Technology is not important, information is", said one of the CIOs at this year's silicon.com CIO50 event. The consensus of the tech chiefs at the event was that technology is the means by which the base metal of data is transmuted into the gold of information, but is not an end in itself. And as a result it is the I in CIO - information - that will be the priority for tech chiefs in 2011.
But this huge new influx of data has a number of technology implications for businesses large and small. One result is that companies are starting to look for better technologies to sift the data they have - and turn it into information from which they can make business decisions.
This requirement means business intelligence is likely to be rising up the corporate agenda. For example, analyst house Gartner has next-generation analytics on its list of strategic technologies for next year, as organisations move beyond analysing data about past events and demand the ability to create simulations or models to predict outcomes and support business decisions.
First, more data means an increased need for data security, without any huge budget increase to help out.
The consumerisation of IT
Consumerisation of IT has added to the security problem, a theme that has run through many of the conversations silicon.com has had with CIOs this year.
When using a smartphones or social media, few employees think to use the security discipline they normally apply to corporate PCs or intranets - even though the security risks of consumer gadgets and applications may be the same.
This issue is a significant headache for CIOs...
...who have to figure out how to safeguard sensitive corporate information when staff are using their own PCs and smartphones at work.
At silicon.com's recent CIO Series dinner, CIOs suggested that one solution may be to allow employees to access only less sensitive parts of the corporate network when using their own equipment.
And it's often not just company data the CIOs have to worry about - the tech chiefs warned that employees are increasingly expecting to be able to store their own music and video files on the corporate server, swallowing up swathes of company storage.
Accommodating this proliferation of employee data, and the headache of having to manage it differently from sensitive corporate data that requires protection against loss and theft, was also a concern to the CIOs.
The role of cloud computing
But the data deluge is not just a problem that needs to be fixed by technology - it might also open up new possibilities. For example, cloud computing, once seen as just industry hype, is now a corporate must-have, and this development will have an impact on the treatment of company data. For decades organisations have been happy to keep data on their own servers, secure behind their own firewall.
This change will create a challenge in terms of setting security strategies, but also an opportunity. Staff will no longer be willing to access work data only from their office desk - they will want access via smartphones and even tablet devices, and holding company data in the cloud is one way of helping with that issue.
Indeed, analyst IDC predicts that next year some of these technologies will come together: cloud with mobile, mobile with social networking, social networking with real-time analytics. So rather than simply seeing the massive increase in corporate data as a challenge, it could be an opportunity - to break down some of those corporate silos and rethink ways of working.
And that opportunity could be the real benefit of the data deluge that has threatened to submerge so many organisations. It's a chance to re-evaluate existing structures and work out what information is really important, and the most effective ways of working.
Organisations that make the wrong decisions here could find themselves swamped, while those that plot the right path will find themselves swimming to success.