Providing firm foundations for data initiatives
John Gamble, Director of Professional Services at C5 Alliance, says a new generation of vendor analytic tools are revolutionising what firms can do with their data. However, data quality is the key to reaping the benefits of these developments.
Digital transformation is a hot topic for many organisations right now. In a recent article, James Russell, Head of C5’s Cloud Practice, discussed how cloud or utility computing is enabling this technological shift. In ‘Digital transformation: your journey to the cloud’, James writes: “Digital transformation is the introduction of technology to all areas of an organisation resulting in operational improvements and how better value and service is delivered to customers. It is made possible by lower cost compute power, storage and bandwidth, paired with increasingly affordable technologies such as cloud, mobile applications, artificial intelligence (AI), big data, internet of things (IoT) and machine learning.” (Visit bit.ly/2UJBmYM for more.)
But how has the cloud changed expectations regarding the use of data in organisations, and what are the steps needed to ensure that any data initiatives set off from a firm foundation?
A changed data landscape
In the last five years, cloud computing has changed the landscape with regards to what people expect to be able to do with data. In 2015, Joseph Sirosh, when he was Corporate VP Data Analytics, Microsoft, wrote: “A new era of analytics is being engendered by cloud computing. The cloud gives us the power to collect and integrate data from an enormous variety of sources, to process big data at amazing scale and economics, to dramatically simplify development and deployment, and offer amazing intelligent APIs and applications as hosted services.”1
Four years on, this is coming to fruition. Online services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify, Flickr, Facebook, WhatsApp and a host of others have changed the way we live our daily lives. How many of us actually watch TV shows live these days? Typically, we watch on-demand.
The same is true regarding how organisations store, collect and use data. The cloud has changed expectation and capability in this area. Here are ten ways in which this has happened over the past few years, all enabled by cloud computing:
A new generation of tools
As well as providing more data than ever before, these trends are directly influencing a new generation of vendor analytic tools that are shaping how companies work with and interact with data. Microsoft recently launched its ‘Common Data Model’, which integrates with its Power BI Data Flows product. The ‘Common Data Model’ provides access to pre-built machine learning and analytic models, further enabling capabilities available to firms. All you have to do is map your data points into the model.
More than ever before, we can now use data to understand what’s happening within a department, team or organisation; understand a process better and how to optimise it; use the latest AI or machine learning techniques to solve advanced classification or optimisation problems; or use data to make predictions. Data, when applied to business problems, creates insight and this drives innovation and value. At C5, recently we helped a start-up called GardenTags, a social network for gardeners, build a mobile app where users can take a photo of a plant and then the app (via the cloud) classifies it for you and tells you what it is directly from the photo, along with supplying care instructions and contacts for people to help you look after the plant. How cool is that?
Yet, all of this is predicated by the quality of the data available to you to put into the models. Yes, we have more capability than ever before, but the ‘rubbish-in, rubbish-out’ scenario still applies and, to get the most out of the new capabilities, is perhaps more relevant than ever. Data quality in source applications needs to be managed and controlled with appropriate governance rules applied to ensure it is complete, up to date, available for use and, where required, the appropriate consents are in place and understood so that we know what the data can be used for. There are many techniques and software products which can be used for managing data. Master Data Management is itself a discipline, but the best approach is always one where the organisational culture recognises the value of data and its importance in enabling innovation and driving the organisation forward. To get to this point requires cultural change, but there are some steps that can be taken to shorten the process.
First, data needs to be owned. Each core data point in an organisation should have an owner who is responsible for it. Data is an asset of the organisation and should be treated and looked after in the same way as any other asset. Second, data quality levels need to be monitored and exceptions highlighted. Business intelligence or data analytical tools, as well as being used to interact with and report on business performance, can be used to report on data quality levels. Data profiling tools can produce metrics which can be sliced-and-diced just like any other metric and business rules (for example, every customer must have a date of birth within a given range) can be applied on data sets to highlight quality issues. From this, KPIs can be produced, issues detected and remedial action taken. Finally, business processes should be updated to always address data quality concerns at the source of the data. If you are using tools within the reporting tier to clean, enhance and improve data quality issues, then you introduce the potential for inconsistency in query results, reports and insights generated.
The right expertise
The use of cloud services for managing and working with data can undoubtedly play a key role in any digital transformation, but like many things, it is about the journey and embracing the concept of continuous improvement. New tools and capabilities have undoubtedly enabled businesses to use data to innovate in new ways to introduce new services, solve problems, improve performance and profitability. The journey can be made as smooth as possible through defining objectives to meet your business challenges and by utilising the right expertise. At C5, our ‘Advise, Build and Run’ service delivery model can enable the digital transformation journey through our best of breed solutions, while not forgetting data quality.
If you would like to discuss your data requirements, please get in touch with Richard Welsh, Chief Commercial Officer, C5 Alliance at Richard.Welsh@c5alliance.com.