Monday, October 23, 2017

Build a Powerful Data Strategy with a Free Market Approach to Information

by Walter Lindsay, Director of Product Management, Liaison Technologies

Data is the new currency of business. Retail giants like Walmart and Amazon understand this, which is why their battle for customers now includes skirmishes over data. Forward-thinking business leaders know that data drives innovation and provides critical insight on customer and market trends, but significant challenges remain that prevent many companies from fully taking advantage of their data.

Security concerns are one hurdle — worries about ransomware and other cybercrime techniques mean that access to application data stores are rightly receiving new scrutiny. Compliance and data integration and management issues are other obstacles to fully leveraging valuable caches of information. Time to market is another hurdle, often seeming opposed to security and compliance.  This can lead to data smuggling – skunkworks integration and data management projects built quickly by circumventing security, compliance, and overall sustainability.

So, how can companies encourage the use of data while addressing these valid concerns? It helps to think of citizen developer initiatives as “startups” within the larger company ecosystem. Here are three steps IT leaders can take to build a powerful “free market” data strategy that creates the conditions for agility and rewards the winners:


Step 1 — Bless access to data: Citizen developers have been creating data integration and management methods out of necessity.  To bring them in from the dark, IT leaders can mandate and verify the few essentials needed to secure data and protect core applications so that all other uses of data are blessed.  Encourage access to data for the kinds of short-term localized uses that safely foster innovation.  Observe what adds business value. Readily accessible data doesn’t necessarily have to follow data warehouse or application format — it just has to be available and safe.


Step 2 — Expand access to data: Once the company’s citizen data users are using newly available data, winning techniques will gain momentum.  IT leaders can promote the winning strategies and make the business case for systematizing and investing in the winners, using the value proof points collected while defining the data’s value. There are two approaches available to accomplish this: creating usable pools of data or simplifying access to accessing data in applications and other sources, both of which eliminate the role of citizen integrators.  In both approaches, IT should provide tooling that enables easy data access, manipulation, and extract, while retaining essential data protections and providing insight into what content citizen data users are utilizing.


Step 3 — Implement analytic Master Data Management (MDM): As the company’s data use grows, silos, data quality and overextended integration techniques will signal the need for an MDM methodology. Companies are virtually certain to reach this natural breakpoint in data use, which is analogous to economies of scale in other business processes. Once examination of integration methods signals the breakpoint, look to the data “market” evolution to indicate a path forward, e.g., a warehouse project or implementation of a bridge platform to enhance efficiency.


These steps illustrate how IT leaders can encourage the citizen data users at their companies who are already putting information to work. The steps also outline how to create the conditions for a powerful data strategy. It’s a “free market” approach in the sense that it allows individuals to innovate and rewards those who come up with the best solutions to data integration and management issues.

In an environment where hacking is on the rise, no company can afford to have a completely unregulated data market. Even while standing up a free market data ecosystem, it makes sense for IT leaders to provide a framework to encourage the secure sharing of information, such as a flexible platform capable of ingesting data from a variety of sources in a range of formats and sharing it in a compliant manner.

As it becomes increasingly clear that data is the key driver of product and service innovation and the primary wellspring of customer and market insight, companies of all types will map out data strategies. A market strategy of helping citizen data users flourish by encouraging and rewarding agile competition enables IT leaders to position their companies for success today as they move toward a data-inspired future.