Challenge of speaking a single data language

Data can bring new insights and business opportunities, but cultural, communicative and technological barriers often prevent firms from accessing it

Firms have a data problem. Multiple departments are collecting data from disparate sources, but businesses are struggling to aggregate it into a complete picture of their operational environment.

Recent research from SnapLogic shows that 74 per cent of IT decision-​makers in the UK and America believe their organisation has more data than ever before, but is struggling to generate useful business insights from it.

In an age when good data can make all the difference between success and failure, that’s a pretty serious issue. So what’s the root cause? And how can businesses address it and ensure everyone is speaking the same data language?

All companies across all sectors now need to leverage the power of data effectively and efficiently if they want to remain relevant and not fall behind in the age of information

Diby Malakar, SnapLogic

The answer to the first question is pretty straightforward: data silos. In essence, they are raw data that is stored in such a way that it’s unreadable or inaccessible by the business as a whole. To investigate a problem or generate new operational insights, businesses have painstakingly to piece together information from these silos, if they even know where to find them, that is.

Data silos can occur for cultural, structural and technological reasons, as well as through mergers and acquisitions and a general lack of strategy at the top of the organisation. According to Diby Malakar, vice president of product management at SnapLogic, a high degree of competition or animosity between departments can, for instance, lead to employees keeping data from one another.

“It is interesting to note that most departmental silos can be traced back to the leaders of those departments, who have failed to understand or communicate the interdependencies that must exist,” he says. “Knowledge is power and sometimes groups within an organisation become unduly suspicious of others wanting to use their data.”

On the structural side, large companies with numerous different departments can find that critical data related to customers, suppliers, financial transactions and other core processes is locked in various systems. In addition, legacy applications may not be designed to cross-​reference or sync with each other, and mergers and acquisitions come with their own suite of problems.

“When mergers happen, typically most companies, for fear of risking business continuity, allow acquired companies to maintain their own business processes, product nomenclatures and IT infrastructures, resulting in data silos that, over the long haul, significantly affect the company from realising the full potential of their acquisitions,” says Dave Brunswick, vice president of solutions at Cleo.

“Also this causes a lack of collaboration across the various parts of the organisation, which over time results in increasing data and information silos.”

Once you know what’s caused your silos, how do you get rid of them? Well, in a nutshell, businesses need to pull all their data together into one platform, enabling quick, efficient data-​sharing between different departments, cloud and on-​premises applications, analytics solutions and data lakes or warehouses.

Modern integration solutions are powered by artificial intelligence, intuitive and easy to use, and have a lower total cost of ownership, says Mr Malakar. “Businesses need to adopt these technologies to exploit new insights into workforce productivity, customer behaviour and a whole host of other areas,” he explains.

Nevertheless, those who wish to adopt such technologies may encounter some resistance. “One barrier is fear,” says Mr Brunswick. “Some companies feel that if the current system works, there’s little reason to consolidate and risk a disruption to the business.”

In fact, some employees may even see data integration solutions as a threat to their job. “For example, a seasoned IT staffer, who built and understands all the one-​off integrations, how they work and how the custom code is deployed, will be a business-​critical resource,” says Mr Brunswick.

“But if the company buys a new integration platform or offloads EDI [electronic data interchange, computer-​to-​computer exchange of business documents between partners] or other business-​to-​business integration responsibilities to a managed service provider, that person might feel like his or her job is threatened and really push back on a fresh approach to integration.”

Lacklustre integration technology can also cause problems. “A company can boast that it has an integration tool to connect data stores and help break down data silos, but if that tool cannot support multiple data formats and various secure protocols, or offer API [application programming interface] integration with SaaS apps, the business will likely deploy integration tools to fill in the gaps,” says Mr Brunswick.

“Or they might even custom-​build their own integrations and have a pile of integration ‘things’ in play that are unwieldy to manage, difficult to scale and expensive to maintain.”

Businesses that don’t understand the value of an integrated IT infrastructure will never unlock the true power of their data and they might find there’s a heavy price to pay. “All companies across all sectors now need to leverage the power of data effectively and efficiently if they want to remain relevant and not fall behind in the age of information,” Mr Malakar concludes. So are you sure you’re getting the complete picture?