How to create a data-driven company for competitive advantage: four characteristics

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, data-driven companies outperform competitors financially. And with data being generated at such an exponential rate, making sure that information flows to the right people and systems and the right time can be a daunting task. According to IBM, we create about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily, such that 90 percent of the data in the world today was generated in the last two years. 

We call it Big Data today, but up to a few years ago, corporations were only just waking up to how their data that had been archived for records and regulatory purposes, is really business intelligence in the rough, if only meaning is made of it. McKinsey’s Global Institute reported that retailers who embrace Big Data can expand their operating margins by up to 60 percent. Already, a large proportion (about 71 percent) of the American financial services industry has already dived into big data to identify new revenue streams, create new business models and transform the way they go to market. 

The ability to harness your data is becoming the key factor that differentiates the top performers from the rest. And a virtualized infrastructure is a major component to enable a data-driven organization. We outline four distinctive characteristics of data-driven organizations, and how the same characteristic is applied to their virtual infrastructure:

Data-driven organizations are open

An organization has to have an open infrastructure that can deliver information everywhere. Gleaning meaningful insights requires firstly, the capture of the data, but huge amounts of highly distributed data require new technology—to readily organize, store and analyze them—along with compute- and data-intensive applications. Querying big data at high speed requires high-performance storage that traditional systems are not capable of, even when extra capacity is added.

Virtualization allows the creation of dynamic data centers capable of high-speed translation of data into meaningful business intelligence that drives value creation. The virtualization of servers, storage and networks allow for an agile data infrastructure in order to optimize processing and performance with minimum overhead. And with memory virtualization decoupling memory from the servers, sufficient processing power and memory resources are freed up to query large data sets and create advanced analytic algorithms.

Data-driven organizations have a highly integrated infrastructure

Any organization would find its data sources in various forms, ranging from columnar/tabular NoSQL Stores, to Massively Parallel Processing-based Appliances, to XML Document data stores. The data has to be architected for reuse and frictionless data-sharing throughout the company. This can be done via virtualization, which enables the creation of a unified reference source for data, allowing for easy searching and indexing, thereby converting raw data into strategic insights. Having such a platform also means that dynamically-linked data is delivered in a consistent form, regardless of the physical database. Cached data is also exposed to all applications, enhancing performance.

Data-driven organizations are social

As outlined by Thor Olavsrud, “data-driven companies value sharing. They believe companies, not employees, own data and that data is a resource for powering growth, not something to be hoarded. Data-driven companies believe shared data should be used by as many employees as possible, training employees as needed to help them make use of data.”

The social aspect applies to information that lies beyond the company’s data stores as well. According to McKinsey, managers also need to get creative about the potential of external and new sources of data. Social media generates terabytes of nontraditional, unstructured data in the form of conversations, photos, and video. Add to that the streams of data flowing in from sensors, monitored processes, and external sources ranging from local demographics to weather forecasts. 

Data-driven organizations maintain control

The more data being stored and analyzed, the more important it is to protect it. While data-driven organizations advocate the democratization of data to put analytics tools in the hands on business users on the ground, care must be taken to ensure that only the right people have the right access.

Virtualization plays a part in protecting information assets, too. Isolation between VMs and from the host physical system allows compromised systems to be shut down, and new VMs spun up. In addition, automated provisioning of virtual instances ensures that security policies carry over without leaving any gaps.

Aided by a virtualized infrastructure, businesses that act quickly to mine the intelligence that they are sitting on, will be redrawing the blueprint for corporate growth.

Scott Morris, Vice President & General Manager of NetApp ASEAN