Managing the Enterprise Data Deluge

How can enterprises better manage the explosion of information around them? Businesses of all stripes need better means of access, governance, and data lifecycle best practices, given the vast ocean of new information coming from many different directions. By getting a better handle on information explosion, analysts and users gain clarity in understanding what is really going on within the businesses, and, especially these days, across the dynamic market environment.

The immediate solution approach requires capturing, storing, managing, finding, and using information better. We’ve all seen a precipitous drop in the cost of storage and a dramatic rise in the incidents of data from all kinds of devices and across more kinds of business processes, from sensors to social media.

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To help us better understand how to best manage and leverage information, even as it’s exploding around us, we’re joined by Suzanne Prince, worldwide director of information solutions marketing at Hewlett-Packard (HP). Welcome, Suzanne.

Suzanne Prince: Thanks, Dana.

Gardner: As I mentioned, things have changed rather dramatically in the past several years, in terms of the amount of information, the complexity, and the sources of that information. From your perspective, how has the world changed for the worse when it comes to managing information?

Prince: Well, it’s certainly a change for the worse. The flood is getting bigger and bigger. You’ve touched on a couple of things already about the volume and the complexity, and it’s not getting any better. It’s getting worse by the minute, in terms of new types of information. But more importantly, we’re noticing major shifts going on in the business environment, which are partially driven by the economy, but they were already happening anyway.

We’re moving more into the collaboration age, with flatter organizations. And the way information is consumed is changing rapidly. We live in the always-on age, and we all expect and want instant access, instant gratification for whatever we want. It’s just compounding the problems.

Gardner: I’m afraid there’s a price to be paid if one loses control over this burgeoning level and complexity of information.

Prince: Absolutely. There are these horror stories that we all regularly read in the press that range from compliance and e-discovery fines that are massive fines. And we’re also seeing major loses of revenue.

I’ll give you an example of an oil company that was hit by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico. Their drilling rigs were hit and damaged severely. They had to rebuild them, and they were ready to start pumping, but they had to regenerate the paperwork, because the environmental compliance documentation was actually on paper.

Guess what happened in the storm — it got lost. It took them two weeks to regenerate that documentation and, in that time, they lost (US)$200 million worth of revenue. So there are massive numbers associated with this risk around information.

Gardner: We’re talking about not just information that’s originating in a digital format, but information that originates in number of different formats across a number of different modalities, from rich media to just plain text. That has to be brought into a manageable digital environment.

Prince: Absolutely. You often hear people saying that information is life — it’s the lifeblood of an organization. But in reality, that analogy breaks down pretty quickly, because it does not run smoothly through veins. It’s sitting in little pockets everywhere, whether it’s the paper files I just talked about that get lost, on your or my memory sticks, on our laptops, or in the data center.

Gardner: We’ve heard a lot about data management and data mining. That tends to focus on structured data, but I suppose we need to include other sorts and types of information.

Prince: Yes. The latest analyst tracker reports — showing what type of storage is being bought and used — reveal that the growth in unstructured content is double the growth that’s going on in the structured world. It makes sense, if you think about it, because for the longest time now, IT has really focused on the structure side of data, stuff that’s in databases. But with the growth of content that was just mentioned — whether it’s videos, Twitters, or whatever — we’re seeing a massive uptick in the problems around content storage.

Gardner: While we’re dealing with a hockey stick curve on volume, I suppose that the amount of time that we have to react to markets is shrinking rapidly. We’ve had an economic storm, and folks have had to adjust, perhaps cutting 30 to 40 percent of their businesses as quickly as possible. So, in order to react to environments that are themselves changing, we can’t wait for a batch reply on some look at information from 3 to 10 weeks ago.

Prince: No. That comes back to what I said previously about instant gratification. In reality, it’s a necessity. Where do I shed? Where do I cut my costs? Where are the costs that I can cut and still not cut into the meat of my company? More importantly, it’s all about where are my best customers? How do I focus my sales energy on my best customers? As we all know, it costs more to get a new customer than it does to retain an old one.

Gardner: Also compounding the complexity nowadays, we’re hearing quite a bit about cloud computing. One of the promises of the vision around cloud computing is being able to share certain data to certain applications, certain people, certain processes, but not others. So we need to start managing how we then allow access to data at a much more granular level.

Prince: The whole category of information governance really comes into play when you start talking about cloud computing, because we’ve already talked about the fact that we’ve got disparate sources, pockets of information throughout an organization. That’s already there now. Now, you open it up with cloud and you’ve got even more. There are quality issues, security issues, and data integration issues, because you most likely want to pull information from your cloud applications or services and integrate that within something like a customer relationship management (CRM) system to be able to pull business intelligence (BI) out.

Gardner: I just spoke with a number of CIOs last week at an HP conference, and their modus operandi these days is that they need to show a return on whatever new investments they make in a matter of one or two months. They don’t have a 12- or 18-month window for return on their activities. What are the business paybacks, when one starts to do data mining, management, cleansing, storing, the whole process? When they do it right, what do they get?

Prince: We’ve seen very good returns on investment (ROIs) ranging from 230 percent to 350 percent. We’ve seen major net benefits in the millions. And in today’s world, the most important thing is to get the cost out and use that cost to invest for growth. There are places you can look, where you can get cost out quite quickly.

I already mentioned one of them, which is around the costs of e-discovery. It may not be provisioned yet in the IT budget, but may be in your legal department’s budget. They are spending millions in responding to court cases. If you put an e-discovery solution in, you could get that cost back and then reallocate that to other projects. This is one example. Storage virtualization is another one. Also outsourcing — look into what you could outsource and turn capital expenditure into operating expenditure.

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Follow Dana Gardner on Twitter. Disclosure: HP sponsored this podcast.

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