Modern businesses are constantly on the hunt for what will give them a competitive advantage. Data is increasingly proving to be that differentiator. The value of insights that can be gathered from an organisation’s data is immense, enabling both analytical and predictive power that can help business leaders make important decisions to drive impact and growth.
Many businesses, however, struggle to translate the sheer volume of data that they generate and collect into relevant insights. “This is largely because of data silos that exist across businesses, created and exacerbated by a traditional warehousing approach that makes it difficult to access and work with multiple sources of data,” says Johannes Kanis, Cloud and Enterprise Business Group lead at Microsoft South Africa.
“In a traditional IT setting, different departments have differing data needs – from finance and marketing to human resources and client services, and each of these parts of the business will have islands of data solutions.”
This is what has previously made enterprise resource planning so popular with businesses: the integration of core business process management. However, even as technology has evolved, departments and business units have retained their legacy solutions, leaving organisational data disconnected and making data silos an ongoing barrier to growth.
Compounding this is other challenges, including a lack of understanding around types of data and the consequent inaccurate classification of data, accessibility problems, data security concerns, and the proper implementation of regulatory requirements around legislation such as the Protection of Personal Information Act.
Acting as an example of the risks these challenges pose was the recent example of the Dutch reporter who hacked into a confidential EU defence minister’s video meeting – all because Dutch defence minister Ank Bijleveld shared a photo of herself working from home on Twitter. The photo of her laptop screen showed the video conference in progress, and five digits of a six-digit pin needed to gain access to the call.
It shows that the consequences of failing to treat data carefully and correctly can be serious.
Combining technology and culture to turn challenge into success
“Critical to note is that these challenges do not simply represent a technology problem; it is also a company culture issue. Turning what is one of an organisation’s biggest challenges into its biggest success requires a culture that focuses on data and using insights acquired from this data to make decisions tied to the business strategy,” says Kanis.
The features of this type of culture are: a clearly defined, centralised data strategy that shows a deep understanding of both business and data needs, and capabilities that enable the seamless and secure collection, classification, handling, storage and processing of data.
More and more, these capabilities are supported by the use of solutions powered by the cloud and big data analytics, and backed up by AI and machine learning as their building blocks. Tools like Azure Synapse Analytics, which Microsoft has now made generally available, bring together data integration, enterprise data warehousing and big data into a single service to help bring key data assets into one place for data engineers, data scientists and business analysts to collect, process and gain real-time insights.
Azure Synapse provides the robust machine-learning operations (MLOps) needed to create a data lake across products and data sources, as well as data pipelines to support analytics and advanced AI – combining and centralising data to unleash its analytical and predictive power through insights.
Bringing all this data together – essentially breaking down data silos and creating interconnected data – makes it simpler, more seamless and secure to gather insights across every function of the business.
“Business leaders then have all the information they need at their fingertips, and are equipped to make decisions that have the ability to drive their business forward, no matter what industry they are in or what their unique business challenges are,” says Kanis.
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