Four Disruptive Forces—Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud—Reshape Data Environments

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Until recently, the data management space has been somewhat removed from the forces steamrolling through the IT world. Yes, there has been plenty of work going on with big data, data warehousing, NoSQL, open source, and service-oriented architecture. But beyond designing service calls, databases have been databases, requiring the same types of development, integration, quality assurance, and maintenance behind the scenes as seen in years gone by. Will the rise of the digital enterprise—as encompassed by social, mobile, analytics, and cloud (SMAC) technologies—change the internal requirements of data environments as well?

The rise of digital platforms is spurring new innovation and new thinking within the data management world to an unprecedented degree, and it is recasting the look, feel, and functionality of solutions and approaches to data applications. There are many business opportunities arising from digital platforms that call for proactive leadership or engagement by data managers. A prime example is the emergence of the Internet of Things, which SMAC makes possible.

When it comes to databases, enterprises increasingly have a wide variety of choices, fitting any intended use. The result is a proliferation of databases directed at highly targeted functions, many of which cannot be handled by traditional enterprise platforms, said Ryan Betts, CTO of VoltDB. “Trending fast data feeds, like mobile and geo-location sensors, and Internet of Things-style smart infrastructures are driving adoption of relational, scalable SQL systems for real-time decisions and analytics,” Betts observes. This operational database space represents the next big database expansion across enterprises.

Newer technologies will increasingly mix it up with older systems. The most pronounced change is that data management and analytics is no longer the sole province of data managers—it is increasingly becoming accessible to business end users. “Users expect to work with a catalog of information choices, be able to define their own universe, and then collaboratively build and share dashboards and reports,” said Sid Probstein, CTO and co-founder of Attivio Technologies. “The old days of waiting days for a report or dashboard to be changed by IT are long gone. Power users who have subject matter expertise expect to be able to obtain and consume and analyze data themselves, at their own pace.” Vendors are responding with new offerings with more powerful self-service capabilities, and this movement will accelerate over the coming year, he predicted.

Again, this will be a gradual process. As big data opens up new possibilities, it also adds a great deal of complexity to data solutions. “Once there is agreement that the results from using data are worth it, then you realize how much complexity there is,” said Probstein. “There are internal sources which are trapped in silos and heavily governed. There are external sources that can be hard to link to internal data. There are entire new sources like social media that require new technologies.”

Here’s how the forces driving the evolution of the digital enterprise—social, mobile, analytics, and cloud—are shaping today’s generation of database solutions.

Social Media Expands Data Types

Social media is changing the types of data flowing into enterprises, and widening the potential for analytics. Probstein calls this “big content,” requiring new types of data tools and platforms. Not only are businesses seeking to gain insights from traditional, inside-the-firewall enterprise data but also “unstructured information like social media—big content—and all other kinds of data from log files on web servers to industry data to government published sets of information,” he said.

This flood of unstructured information is the most pressing challenge seen in data centers going forward. Probstein defines “big content” as essentially “human-created content that contains valuable signals about buying and staying behavior.” Discovering and mining this data will help provide substantial competitive advantage, he added. This represents a step beyond the typical capabilities BI and analytics tools have provided up to this point, he added. “Companies don’t want to use new reporting and dashboard systems just to access this data.”

The Rise of Mobile

The rise of mobile apps and capabilities are also pressing into the data environment in a big way. There have been many advances in mobile technologies and capabilities for BI, said Rachael Narel, engagement manager at SWC Technology Partners. “We find sales representatives and executives are asking for more dashboard and reporting access while on their mobile devices. Rather than being a competitive advantage, mobile is now an assumed requirement of any tool.”

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