Exasol: data supply chains, green data & data-developer destinies

If not quite a future predictions analysis (we’ve all had far too many of those by now anyway) market intelligence lead at Exasol Helena Schwenk has spoken to the Computer Weekly Developer Network team this week to point our data-centric noses towards some of the bigger drivers on the road ahead for data-driven data-developers.

As an in-memory analytics database company, Schwenk asserts that her firm has seen some of the more sensitive and important developments in the market play out during the last 12-months.

So what’s around the next corner for data-developers?

Schwenk insists that diversity and ethics will challenge the role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) and that so-called ‘data storytelling’ will grow as a way of elevating data literacy programs.

For the record, data storytelling is meant to express the ability to convey (often low level, often only semi-structured, usually complex) data streams into a narrative that humans can comprehend without needing a college degree in data analytics.

Looking back, Schwenk says that 2020 may well go down (for obvious reasons) as the year of resilience and adaptability. Isn’t hindsight is a wonderful thing?

Eco-data: green data

She notes that societal change influencing consumer values in 2020 was punctuated by wide-ranging health and economic impacts, but it also saw social unrest and concerns about climate change grow.

Could we be about to see the rise of eco-data, or data-ecology or green data then? This is data that a) goes towards serving environmentally-aware operational initiatives and (equally) also b) data that is created, analysed, stored and delivered to applications through the use of zero-carbon physical equipment.

These wider societal impacts are hard to ignore especially when combined with the influence of public values on customer choice and perception. The net effect saw certain businesses take greater responsibility for delivering social value and elevating its role within wider decision making,” said Exasol’s Schwenk.

So, where is all this leading – and is it pointless trying to guess?

Well says Schwenk, despite being firmly rooted in the stark reality of the present, we can clearly see trends which will take hold in 2021.

In 2021 we predict CDOs won’t just bear responsibility for managing and securing data, they’ll also play a vital role in setting the data ethics strategy. This is a move that will be driven by increased concerns from consumers, regulators and legislators over the misuse of data; but also because it makes good business sense especially when retaining customers’ trust post-crisis, remains paramount,” she said.

She also expects greater investment around data democratisation as organisations tap into the potential of faster than predicted cloud adoption as a direct consequence of the pandemic.

Exasol’s Schwenk: Let’s use our innate ability to learn through (data) narratives.

Exasol cites work it has done with ‘challenger bank’ Revolut to widen and democratize its use of data.

The company has said that (as part of its Exasol implementation) it has become a more data-driven company and now maintains around 800 dashboards and runs around 100,000 SQL queries on a daily basis across the organisation.

Revolut says that by using a high-performance in-memory analytics database (yes, we can guess which one) running on Google Cloud Platform, queries that used to take hours are now completed in seconds.

Cleaning out the data supply chain

Could 2021 see us finally get out of the 80/20 trap?

This is where 80% of the data delivery effort is spent on organising and preparing the data, with only 20% committed to analysing and maximising its use. Worse still, the need to manually manipulate data can lead to lower data utilisation rates.

Motivated by the need to rebalance this effort, Schwenk thinks that data teams (progressive ones at least) will be tasked with ensuring greater efficiency and improving the ROI of investments related to data delivery.

A key focus area will be the reduction of manual tasks by orchestrating mundane activities and leaving higher level work to humans.

This means in 2021 we expect projects or initiatives where automation addresses the biggest pain points in the data supply chain to be prioritised. This will incorporate projects such as data ingestion, metadata management and database tuning and configuration. While automation cannot fix poorly managed data, it brings potential benefits. Improved processing and throughput times, reduced errors, enhanced productivity – and labor savings where manual repetitive tasks are removed.

In other trends, Schwenk points to collaborative intelligence – combining human expertise and AI as we shift toward deeper data-driven decision-making.

Creating collaborative intelligence

While the concept of machines augmenting human activity has been with us for some time, a significant change in working patterns combined with increased pressure to support faster and higher quality decisions when adjusting to rapidly moving situations, means we expect to see further experimentation and investment in 2021.

We expect collaborative intelligence to be focused on increasing the quality of work and employee productivity by either freeing up people to focus on higher-value, more human-led tasks or by finding new ways of orchestrating how tasks are performed,” said Schwenk.

All of this means that data-driven data-developers will (we can only hope) gain greater voice inside organisations… and, equally, wider levels of data literacy should also be bolstered.

Today though, while data literacy is gaining ground, especially in organisations with a CDO, Exasol’s latest report and analysis of the market suggests that overall literacy levels remain relatively low. So we do indeed have work to do.

In 2021, in an effort to plug this data literacy shortfall, committed organisations will consider introducing data storytelling projects to accelerate and improve their data literacy programs. Storytelling involves using our innate ability to learn through narrative to uncover data insights, which spark conversations and curiosity among data communities and bring data to the forefront of more decisions,” said Schwenk.

But, heeds Schwenk, don’t tackle these trends piecemeal – many of these trends will influence or rely on others, so taking any of them on will require bigger thinking.

So, the message to all companies is: get your data strategy right first – before taking any tactical decisions it is essential that a clear data strategy is in place, aligned with the objectives of the business.

Without this there will be limits to how effectively data can be used.

Also, address the human side of data analytics – unless people are convinced by the need to adopt a data-driven way of working, and are comfortable with the tools used to make this a reality, any data strategy will be negatively impacted.

Data is really a human thing after all, phew…

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