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You can store your data - but can you make sense of it?

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13th Apr 2010
Managing editor MyCustomer.com
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The Teradata Universe Conference hears that data storage has reached a landmark moment - but turning it into actionable insight remains tough.

The data industry has reached a landmark moment where the price of storage has become almost negligible, attendees at this week’s Enterprise Intelligence Summit in Berlin were told. But businesses were warned that they face a myriad of obstacles before this data can help them identify trends and guide decision-making.
A variety of experts and partners at the annual Teradata Universe jamboree were on hand to highlight the critical nature of data and analytics. Teradata’s own EMEA president Hermann Wimmer kicked off proceedings by providing a look at the data landscape – characterised, he said, by the "explosion of data" that is set to continue into the future.
"A lot more data is flying around and it is important to catch it." But he added: "There is a gap between available storage and data. From 2011 we will have double the data worldwide than storage available."
Wimmer pointed to the likes of social networking for the ongoing boom in data, a source which he said should not be dismissed, as it holds great value to businesses as they look to identify trends and what they mean for our businesses.
"We have to be very fast to understand all these new trends and this is impossible to do this without collecting the right data at the right time… It is a storm of data and if anyone tells you it will slow down it is either a wish or a lie. It will only get harder over the next five to ten years."
But there is hope for firms as they look to tackle the data issue.
"Last year we celebrated 30 years of Teradata," he explained. "We shipped our first system in 1983 and if you would have bought a one terabit system in 1983 the cost would have been $320m. So there is a logical reason why you haven’t stored this data before – because it was unaffordable. But now the reality is that meanwhile storage has become, I wouldn’t call it for free, but nearly for free.   So since the costs are so low the ROI is visible now. But you have to understand it and you have to accept that without this data it is very hard to be successful."
He added: "If we accept that we have all this change then we have to change our business and the processes… People who adapt earlier to new trends and understand and influence trends will be the winners."
Change blindness
While the collection of data may be one issue, there are further challenges when it comes to turning this data into information that guides decision-making – some of these are human shortcomings, some are environmental issues, and others lie closer to home.
Futurologist and trendspotting expert Magnus Lindkvist, for instance, demonstrated that humans have a natural tendency to miss the changes that influence our businesses, referring to these as home blindness (focusing only on information related to our field of interest), change blindness (missing change that happens either too quickly or too slowly to notice), and future blindness (being unable to spot emerging trends).
Trends of course can be hard to spot, he emphasised. But with the right information – and the right analytic capability - it can be possible. Unfortunately, through no fault of our own, we don’t always have access to the whole picture.
For instance, Han Rosling, professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute and director of Gapminder Foundation, demonstrated how world views informed by international statistics can contradict preconceived notions about the likes of ‘developing’ nations. Rosling highlighted how businesses could use public statistics to inform their own views – if only such statistics were more widely available.
As such, he made a plea to attendees to encourage the likes of the EU to follow the lead of the US, which has pooled public statistics on data.gov.
The enemy within
But as organisations look to leverage data to facilitate decision-making, they must also tackle the enemy within. And while an increasing number of businesses are acknowledging the importance of gathering business intelligence, their internal structure may not lend itself to the active use of the information this holds.
"Business intelligence continues to be a top priority and it will continue to be a priority for years to come. And if you look at the key reasons for this, a Gartner survey from last year says companies are looking for better and faster decisions in which to operate their companies," said Mike Koehler, CEO of Teradata. "But investing in BI is just not enough.
"If you talk to CXOs around the world – CEOs, CIOs, CMOs – the new trend around BI is that organisations want to get a holistic view of the enterprise. They want to get granular information and transparency, they want to get consistency of information from which decisions are made across the enterprise and they want to do it with tremendous speed. But investing in BI is not good enough – it requires the proper data foundation from which to execute a holistic view of the enterprise.
"And the challenges that most companies have today is over the years what has proliferated are data marts - information resides in silos. There are so many Berlin walls that exist in companies today that it can’t be shared and accessed. It is not integrated. It is very costly to operate all these different data silos and data marts that have evolved from legacy systems, and putting in departmental data marts to serve various organisations separately. And it is very slow to get information. So what is requires is an enterprise data strategy and an enterprise architecture."
"Those are the keys to get the underpinnings right so that as you invest in BI tools and applications it is going against a best in class data foundation to give you that complete view of the enterprise. And it needs to be executed over time. You can’t do it in a year. It needs to be executed over time."
Research unveiled at the Conference suggests that a large scale migration to such a structure is still some way away, however. An IDC study undertaken last month found that 74% of organisations questioned are not taking advantage of the modern technologies that are available to support operational and tactical decision-making, and that they are more likely to rely on gut feel than information.
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