Why enterprises need to treat data as a first class citizen [Q&A]

Data has become increasingly important for modern businesses and they increasingly expect it to help them improve their delivery to customers and ultimately their bottom line.

We spoke to Dom Couldwell, head of field engineering, EMEA at DataStax to discuss how companies can use data and how they need to adapt their approach to do so effectively.

BN: Companies are putting more emphasis on data in their businesses, and it's how they expect to create more revenues in future. Are they actually ready for this approach?

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DC: To be brutally honest, most organizations are not ready for data in their operations. We have all seen the clichés around data being the new oil or the new gold, and we have understood how important data will be in business for some time, but the overwhelming majority of the effort we have put in so far has been around capturing and storing the data.

The majority of companies are not using this data, that they have spent so long working on how to capture, to actually drive insights around their customers and what they want. This is a big hurdle to get over, as it means building up more understanding of how to use data effectively in decisions. This can be a difficult conversation to have, but it is essential.

BN: How do companies support their developers around their approach to applications, and how should this approach also be used for data?

DC: When you want to make your application development more agile, there are established processes that you have to adopt. These core principles include continuous integration, short development cycles and focusing on value to the business. These have been in place for some time for software, but data has lagged behind in terms of adoption.

This has partly been down to the technical challenges around how we store data, but there's also an important cultural element around how we treat data too. It's seen as a precious but fragile asset that needs to be locked away and handled with kid gloves.

In order to really drive the value from data we need to unlock access to data across the business. We can achieve this through best in class developer experiences like using APIs to interact with data, but we also need to help data flow through the organization like a river by combining approaches for data at rest and data in motion to provide real time insights, and allowing organisations to treat data like code by providing versioning and branching.

Real-time data helps developers build efficiently -- 66 percent of companies that make real-time data a strategic imperative say that developer productivity has improved because of this focus.

BN: How does data get managed in businesses today? What are companies missing?

DC: Many organizations have access to orders of magnitude more data today than has been available in the past. Do they see that as a problem or an opportunity? Is the conversation around how much more it will cost to store this data or how much more value they will be able to extract? Is value from data seen as growing linearly or can we shape the curve to get exponentially more value from the data?

How organizations approach this, and the mindset that they adopt, will have a massive impact on their revenue and how they stack up against the competition.

BN: What mindset changes are needed around data for developers and for IT leaders? Do companies have the right processes in place in their operations to make data work for them?

DC: The biggest opportunity is around getting the data in the hands of those that can drive the most insights. The rise of no code and low code approaches to software empowered citizen developers to build more compelling applications for themselves and other consumers.

We need to do the same for data, and challenge ourselves to find ways of empowering citizen analysts. Technologies like Pulsar functions can provide ways of pushing data closer to the edge where people working in lines of business really know what consumers want, and they can use data to help them achieve more.

BN: What problems do companies encounter around data, and is a cross-team model needed to solve them?

DC: Silos are a huge challenge for businesses, be it data or teams. Democratising and accelerating developers' access to data needs both SaaS and developer first principles. SaaS means that they no longer need to worry about managing and scaling the data and can focus their efforts on really driving value to the business. Developer first means obfuscating the implementation details of the underlying storage by providing them with a world class experience when it comes to accessing the data.

You have to meet the developers where they are in terms of the languages or form factors they are most comfortable with. Developers don't want to learn a new language or protocol every time they need to access a new data source. Give them APIs!

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