Do you need a data strategy?

It’s interesting when an idea gets repeated back to you, isn’t it? Recently I was hosting a workshop where we discussed the idea of building future data management platforms and policies. One of the constant messages I heard during the workshop was how “IT is only ever seen as a cost”. For many this is the case, most organisations still don’t view IT as anything other than a resource drain, costing a lot of money with little reward.

However, in parallel to that view is the realisation that data is an asset and has intrinsic value in it if it can be unlocked. This view has a lot of merits, if you know the right question to ask and have a high-quality dataset, your data can provide you with extremely valuable answers.

This led me to consider a different question for the workshop attendees “how many of you have a specific data strategy?”, Only one of the assembled group had considered a specific data strategy. This got me thinking, if data is so important and has such great value then why were data strategies not more commonplace? Was there just not a need for them? Did a broader traditional IT strategy provide the focus on data that was needed?

About a week after this workshop event, during NetApp’s Technical Conference, Insight, Henri Richard, Executive VP of worldwide operations, discussed the importance of a specific data strategy. This was great validation for the question that was discussed in the workshop. Now I’m pretty sure Henri was not in the workshop session and doubt he had read my notes, so why did this phrase find itself on the main stage at a large technology conference?

As we move into 2019, hopefully this coincidence is based upon an important shift in thinking in the way we approach our technology challenges. While designing a robust, flexible and available infrastructure will remain key, should it continue to be the focus of our IT strategy, especially as the very way we build and use infrastructure is changing dramatically? It’s unlikely that, even if we build infrastructure inside our own datacentres, we will build all of it and it is much more likely we’ll use some hybrid of on-prem and cloud (public or otherwise). This shift, alongside the desire to get more from data, is, I believe, a major factor driving the need to change the way we approach our technology deployments.

For this to work, we need to shift the question we ask when deploying technology, one less focussed on particular infrastructures and vendor preferences and one that asks different questions, one that focusses on data, its flexibility, mobility, security and management.

A data focussed strategy needs to ask new questions; how do I ensure I can have my data in the right place at the right time? How do I ensure my data is organised, so it is relevant and valuable? How do I ensure I have the flexibility to move it to new locations as needed? And how do I do all of this whired lights in line on black surfacele maintaining security, compliance and availability?

When we ask these questions it also changes the kind of things that we feel are key to our technology strategy, it’s less about storage, servers and hypervisors and much more about ensuring we deliver fundamental capabilities for our data, a fabric that allows us to move our data where we need it, when we need it, we need intelligence and security built into the very heart of our infrastructure and we need to automate many of the ways we manage our data and it’s repositories, as the amount of data and breadth of both our requirements for it and the threats to it, mean as humans alone we won’t be able to meet all of our data demands.

Do we need a data strategy?

Clearly, my belief is yes, as the way we view our data and its importance to our organisations is changing dramatically and is forcing new approaches to common technology challenges. If we continue to design our strategy around servers, storage and operating systems, while these remain important, it will mean we’ll be building platforms that have the potential to limit the value we can get from our data.

Focussing on the data means we will need to consider how we use and get the best from this critical asset. How we ensure its portability, security, compliance and management will only come if we develop specific data strategies with this focus, rather than data as a secondary part of a wider tech strategy.

Will data strategies become more commonplace? It’s an area that is certainly worth keeping an eye on, I do believe that organisations who focus on data and see the value in the right data and technology strategies, will be the big future winners, while those that continue to take a traditional view and only see IT as a cost to be absorbed may well find themselves slipping behind.

For a view on what a data strategy may want to include try my post “Intelligent, secure, automated, your data platform future”.


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