Friday, January 31, 2014

Unified Data Strategy

The amount of data being created, captured, and managed worldwide is increasing at a rate that was inconceivable a few years ago. Data is a collection of discrete units of information but like the stars in the night sky taken together form an organized structure.

Unstructured data comes in many different formats including pictures, videos, audio, PDF files, spreadsheets, documents, email, and many other formats. 

Sometimes unstructured data lives within a database. Sometimes the database acts as an index for the unstructured data. Often the metadata (information about the data) associated with the unstructured data is larger than the data itself. Consider the example of a set of videos. Although the files may be small in size, the information stored regarding the content within a particular video may be very big. Often unstructured data is also called big data.

Certain business functions require analysis of massive amounts of data.

Multiple systems are being utilized to manage different forms of disparate data. Companies need to adopt a comprehensive and holistic approach to managing these many systems and incorporating them into a combined system.

Modern IT systems should be able to ingest, access, store, manipulate and protect data within a wide variety of disparate formats. These multiple data formats may exclude the necessary flexibility, elasticity and alacrity that many modern business functions require. There are situations when data must be accessed so quickly and data management systems should be able to accommodate such situations. Each of these systems recognizes a particular style of data with a fairly well-defined set of attributes and manages that data to satisfy a particular business function.

A Unified Data Strategy (UDS) is a broad concept that describes how massive amounts of data in a multitude of forms can and should be understood and managed. UDS is also a specific individualized methodology developed by each data owner to manage that data in all its forms in a comprehensive but interrelated manner.

By adopting a UDS, data owners will be able to develop comprehensive, customized methodologies to manage their data. By taking into account the interconnected nature of the various sources of data and tailoring the management of that data to the specific business requirements the maximum value can be achieved.

UDS can be used to address the task of comprehensive data management. Cloud computing may provide the solution to this data management and recognition problem. Virtualization, the foundation of cloud computing, is the cornerstone of this strategy. The capabilities and architecture enabled via a virtual/cloud infrastructure can help companies to develop a UDS to address the movement in data management and practice.

Exciting new technologies and methodologies are evolving to address this phenomenon of science and culture creating huge new opportunities. These new technologies are also fundamentally changing the way we look at and use data.

The rush to monetize big data makes various solutions appealing. But companies should perform proper due diligence to fully understand the current state of their data management systems. Companies must learn to recognize the various forms of disparate and seemingly extraneous forms of information as data and develop a plan to manage and utilize all their data assets as a single, more powerful whole.

The transition from traditional relationally-structured data to a UDS could be complicated, but can be navigated effectively with an organized and managed approach to this effort.

To successfully adopt a Unified Data Strategy, companies should focus on the following:

1. Develop a thorough understanding of how the business consumes, produces, manipulates and uses information of all types.

2. Determine how the business can use data to both understand external factors and to assist in making internal decisions, as well as to understand how the data itself is relevant to influencing the business.

3. Analyze the "personality" of each data form so that it can be matched with tools that appropriately acquire, filter, store, safeguard and disperse the data into useful information.

4. Select infrastructure and tools that automate or eliminate traditional high-cost tasks such as import, provisioning, scalability, and disaster tolerance. A highly virtualized infrastructure with complementary tools should provide the majority of these capabilities.

5. Commit to the process of learning as an entirely new approach to technology, and to adopting it in risk-appropriate increments.

Any organization with a significant data infrastructure should be aware of the pitfalls that could occur if a company rushes into acquiring new technologies without understanding their requirements. Thorough analysis will lead to an understanding of the current state of their data management systems, and subsequently to better control of their existing data.

Ultimately, organizations should be able to recognize, manage, and utilize new forms of disparate and seemingly extraneous information as data. Companies, that develop a plan to comprehensively address all their issues around managing and utilizing all useful data, will gain significant strategic advantages.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Unified Index to Information Repositories

Amount of information is doubling every 18 months, and unstructured information volumes grow six times faster than structured.

Employees spend far too much time, about 20% of their time, on average, looking for, not finding and recreating information. Once they find the information, 42% of employees report having used the wrong information, according to a recent survey.

To combat this reality, for years, companies have spent hundreds of thousands, even millions, to move data to centralized systems, in an effort to better manage and access its growing volumes, only to be disappointed as data continues to proliferate outside of that system. Even with a single knowledgebase in place, employees report decrease in critical customer service metrics, due to the inability to quickly locate the right knowledge and information to serve customers.

Despite best efforts to move data to centralized platforms, companies are finding that their knowledgebase runs throughout enterprise systems, departments, divisions and newly acquired subsidiaries. Knowledge is stored offline in PCs and laptops, in emails and archives, intranets, file shares, CRM systems, ERPs, home-grown systems, and many others—across departments and across geographies.

Add to this the proliferation of enterprise applications use (including social networks, wikis, blogs and more) throughout organizations and it is no wonder that efforts to consolidate data into a single knowledgebase, a single "version of the truth" have failed... and at a very high price.

The bottom line is, moving data into a single knowledgebase is a losing battle. There remains a much more successful way to effectively manage your knowledge ecosystem without moving data.

When there are multiple systems containing organization's information are in place, a better approach is to stop moving data by combining structured and unstructured data from virtually any enterprise system, including social networks, into a central, unified index. Think of it as an indexing layer that sits above all enterprise systems, from which services can be provided to multiple departments, each configured to that department’s specific needs.

This approach enables dashboards, focused on various business departments and processes, prospective customers. Such composite views of information provide new, actionable perspectives on many business processes, including overall corporate governance. The resulting juxtaposition of key metrics and information improves decision making and operational efficiency.

This approach allows IT departments to leverage their existing technology, and avoid significant cost associated with system integration and data migration projects. It also helps companies avoid pushing their processes into a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter framework.

With configurable dashboards, companies decide how/what/where information and knowledge is presented, workflows are enabled, and for what groups of employees. Information monitoring and alerts facilitate compliance. There is virtually no limit to the type of information and where it is pulled from, into the central, unified and, importantly, highly secure index: structured, unstructured, from all corporate email, files, archives, on desktops and in many CRMs, CMS, knowledgebases, etc.

Enterprise applications have proliferated throughout organizations, becoming rich with content. And yet all of that knowledge and all of that content remain locked within the community, often not even easily available to the members themselves.

Now it is possible to leverage the wisdom of communities in enterprise search efforts. User rankings, best bets and the ability to find people through the content they create are social search elements that provide the context employees and customers have come to expect from their interactions with online networks.

Imagine one of your sales executives attempting to sell one of your company’s largest accounts. They access a composite, 360 degree view of that company, and see not only the account history, sales opportunities, contact details, prior email conversations, proposals, contracts, customer service tickets, that customer’s recent comments to a blog post, complaints about service or questions posed within your customer community.

Armed with this knowledge, your sales executive is in a more informed position to better assist and sell to that customer. Without moving data your sales executive has a single, composite view of information that strategically informs the sales process.

Ubiquitous knowledge access allows employees to search where they work. Once you created the central index, you need to provide your employees with anytime/anywhere access to pertinent information and knowledge.

In many organizations, employees spend a lot of their time in MS Outlook. Other organizations with large sales teams need easy access to information on the road. Also valuable is the ability to conduct secure searches within enterprise content directly from a BlackBerry, including guided navigation. Even when systems are disconnected, including laptops, users can easily find information from these systems, directly from their mobile device. Again, without moving data, organizations can enjoy immediate, instant access to pertinent knowledge and information, anywhere, anytime.

Companies that stopped moving data report favorable results of their unified information index layer from multiple repositories such as faster customer issues resolution time, significant reduction in dedicated support resources, savings in upgrade cost for the legacy system which was replaced, increase in self-service customer satisfaction, and reducing average response time to customers' queries.

There are few applications currently in the market that fulfill these functions. These are enterprise search applications.

However, there is no "one fits all" approach. Any solution should be based on organization's business requirements.