The Inconvenient Digital Truth(s) of the New Normal

Photo credit: iStockphoto/RomoloTavani

COVID-19 was a rude wake-up call for all. It did not matter whether you were a digital native, a progressive incumbent or a digital recalcitrant: it impacted every company.

For some, it was a momentous opportunity if they had the appetite, guts, and cash flow; for others, it was time to pivot, realign business models or even assess their business survivability.

While COVID-19 has made the world more digital, it has also unearthed hard truths that companies had to face. Below are four.

Your data management can make or break your business.

The time value of data soared during COVID-19. And by all indications, it will continue to soar post pandemic.

But the problem for companies is not the data — they were already swimming in it before the pandemic. Rather, it is the data plumbing. Getting the vast amounts of data ready and transported to the right applications running in the cloud is proving to be a pandemic struggle. It has also become business critical and offering an opportunity for players like Matillion, a provider of data transformation software for cloud data warehouses.

“In response to COVID-19, data is being put to work. Our software is used in a number of use cases that has got to do with the frontline of the fight against COVID-19,” said Matthew Scullion the company's chief executive officer. Use cases include from the distribution of PPEs, providing COVID-19 statistics by working closely with Google to looking for treatment. 

Predictive analytics and AI will create more urgency for better data plumbing. Companies are relying on these tools to navigate an uncertain landscape where all previous business or financial models fail. They also need to separate temporary trends from permanent shifts.

The problem is that AI relies on vast amounts of data, some of it sitting in backup stores. “So, it is why we see AI and ML as strong new mega trends for the consumption of data and requires more data preparation work,” said Scullion. 

You may be blind to cloud data backup issues

While companies shifted from on-premises to cloud versions of applications to enable remote working, their on-premises backup strategies did not follow.

“Think about Office 365. Microsoft does not cover any long-term backup. What they cover is retention and litigation hold,” said Anthony Spiteri, senior global technologist, product strategy at Veeam Software.

Backing up cloud data, especially those residing at your cloud vendor’s servers, is very different from backing it up at your own on-premises. In fact, Spiteri feels that it is one of the biggest misconceptions: “Everything is actually backed up in the cloud.”

He feels that customers are seeing through the issues more clearly. For example, backup for Office 365 saw immense interest during COVID-19.

Still, Spiteri feels that customers need to be more aware of the challenges of cloud data backup. “A lot of cloud service providers offer backup services but are fairly minimal. So, customers still need to think about the backup for their apps, data and services. You need to be mindful of it.”

Remote working adds an unwelcome complexity. Data being created at employees’ remote sites makes it harder to have a coherent data backup strategy.

Spiteri calls it “data displacement.” “So, data is fragmented and displaced, and this poses a massive challenge. Having “policies based on how users create data and backup tools that are flexible” will become important. Else, the company will not recover confidently when disaster strikes.

A single source of truth is no longer an aspiration

You can understand why companies want a single source of truth. A unified repository where all data is current, accurate and always updated will make decision-making easy.

In reality, achieving it has been anything but easy. One reason is the way we perceive data democratization, said Geoff Soon, managing director for South Asia at Snowflake.

“People talk about data democratization as aspirational goals. Now, they are actual necessities. If your employees do not have access to the data from wherever they are, you will have serious challenges,” said Soon.

“They need to navigate all their data in their organizations through visualization and self-service tools,” he added.

The good news, according to Soon, is that the tools are ready. “We have the technology to manage petabytes of structured and semi-structured data, which was not possible before.”

Companies have also started interacting with customers in multiple ways across digital channels. This has created different silos of data, including unstructured data. So, they have invested in a data infrastructure that “pulls these silos together.” This readiness is now helping them to navigate the business landscape with better up-to-date data

Soon was optimistic that companies will create their single sources of truth faster. “Over the last few months, we have seen companies doing far more analytics. It is not about profit and loss anymore; it is about health and safety. A single source of truth becomes critical to operations,” says Soon. 

Private interconnections will rule them all

Jeremy Deutsch, president for Asia Pacific at Equinix noted that conversations about connectivity have transformed over the past few weeks.

Before it was about productivity, latency and speed. Today, it is about business agility. And this has made interconnections and connectivity a CEO matter. “In the long term, I think CDOs and CIOs will have more attention from CEOs [on connectivity matters],” said Deutsch.

As more companies go digital, “security, robustness and repeatability” of services and applications will matter. While the first two are obvious, Deutsch explained that repeatability is important as the IT team will be restricted in their movement and so companies need to deploy the same services in multiple locations.

To do this, "you need interconnections that are more robust and enterprise grade,” said Deutsch.

As a result, many are turning to Equinix’s promise of private interconnections to service providers and hyper-scalers’ platforms. “That is going to be an area where we will see some acceleration in the next 12 months.”

Deutsch also highlighted the prominent role of private internet exchanges in an increasingly digital world.

“You need to build a fully tolerant mesh network and have multiple peering points. By creating these, [Equinix] allows different companies to participate. It gives them the benefit to connect with everyone already there [at the exchange]. This area will also accelerate [in growth].”

Photo credit: iStockphoto/RomoloTavani