Everyone’s talking about data

Data, as the saying goes, is the new oil. If a business loses its applications, it may cause some serious headaches in the IT department, but ultimately, it should be able to recover.

Lose the data, and that’s like losing the keys to the kingdom. Actually it is worse than that. It’s like losing the crown jewels.

But far too much emphasis seems to be put on applications than data. “IT started with constrained computer systems, data was a secondary asset ” says Clive Benford, head of the corporate analytics programme at Jaguar Land Rover.

Software is procured or specified as a functional asset. It is rather like, to use the oil analogy, the drill on an oil rig. But, if there’s no oil to be found, it’s a moot point whether the drill has been optimally specified. However, the emphasis on applications is changing. Work is being done to build out a so-called “data-centric manifesto”, an information architecture, which puts the emphasis on data rather than applications. All of the value that arises from using analytics, occurs, says Benford, when people do things beyond the functional specifications of the original systems.

A data-centric architecture

The Data-centric Manifesto is one of the groups lobbying to change IT’s perspective on applications and data. Consider how multiple mobile phone apps attach to a mobile phone’s calendar. They don’t “own” the calendar but they know of it and can schedule calendar events and set reminders.

While the data landscape of an enterprise is more complex than a calendar, the Data-centric Manifesto says it is possible to establish a shared model of the essential concepts that underpin all of the applications of a large firm. Such an IT architecture is not application-driven. There is no killer app. Just as when drilling for oil, the most important asset is the data. The data identifies target areas to drill for oil, or, in the context of a business, it highlights potential efficiency gains, waste, supply chain optimisations and improvements to customers or employee experience.

This requires both a top-down and bottom-up approach to embed how people at all levels of the organisation think about the role of data in their job, and how data is shared, securely and responsibly. Speaking at Gartner’s data and analytics summit in London, Peter Blomgren who leads AstraZeneca’s R&D data office, says the company changed culturally from being closed by default to open by default for qualified users. If data is truly the new oil, then IT leaders should move beyond an application-centric IT strategy to one that is wholly data-centric, with a governance framework architected for the secure sharing of information assets.