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August 17, 2011

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Data Management: Reaching into the Cloud, by Julie Hunt

by Dan Power
DM in clouds 2

In a new form of “shadow IT”, Line-of-Business (LOB) groups have been turning to cloud-based services to quickly set up technology solutions that support their business needs and objectives.

IT teams are already carrying heavy workloads with ever-shrinking staffing levels, and frequently don’t have the resources to immediately respond to time-sensitive LOB needs. However without IT involvement, these LOB groups do not usually have the expertise to understand the implications of creating data in the cloud and its relationship not only to data in other Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) / cloud offerings, but to on-premises systems as well. These business users need a partnership with IT to ensure that comprehensive data management processes are put into practice.

It’s clear that enterprises will continue to increase usage of cloud and SaaS offerings to find new ways to operate more competitively and efficiently. Unfortunately the rapid creation and adoption of cloud and SaaS services have led to increased data silos in the cloud. The same challenges that enterprises face for on-premises data management obviously apply to data repositories in the cloud: data quality and reliability, integration, governance, security and compliance, master data management (MDM), as well as improved data accessibility. There is now a even bigger picture for data management, where all of these domains need to be governed as an interoperating whole.

If enterprises fail to address a rigorous data management strategy for cloud computing initiatives, deterioration in data quality and reliability of cloud data are likely to kick in quickly. Data that cannot be trusted nor aligned with enterprise datasets will destroy the value and cost savings that enterprises want from cloud services. One of the most important requirements of business data generated through cloud services is security for that data. Not all data created in the cloud requires security, but most of it does. Comprehensive data management policies are needed in the cloud as well as for on-premises data repositories to ensure secure data processes.

The concerns of both business users and IT regarding data in the cloud have been articulated in many surveys including one recently completed by IDC where issues that relate directly to data governance and MDM initiatives covered security, data integration, operational costs and compliance – all pretty much to be expected when considering management strategies for cloud data. The IDC study goes on to discuss an important point that again requires IT and LOB groups working together: Business Relevance.

The next two challenges – the perceived difficulty of cloud services integration, and the limited ability to customize – are both related to the important issue of business relevance.  While customers certainly enjoy the economic and operational benefits of the off-the-shelf, standardized nature of many cloud services, this survey shows they nonetheless want greater ability to “fit” cloud services more tightly into the context of their specific business.

MDM and data governance provide clear value when they reflect the actual activities and processes of the enterprise. This approach also makes it easier for corporate decision-makers to understand the role MDM and data governance play to support strategic goals and even how they might map (at the high level) to key business processes. Malcolm Chisholm and Fabio Corzo flesh out these ideas in The True Role of MDM:

The importance of master data is not just data values or quality, but the real-life concepts they represent…

We are looking for fundamental business transformation that will take the business into new ways of perceiving, understanding and developing customers, employees, suppliers, assets and securities. We are looking for business transformation that moves in line with the business goals. And though executives understand that data is at the heart of proper and well-executed business transformation, experience tells us that more often than not, the business transformation is limited to improved data quality side effects that fail to realize the true value of an MDM program.

The above concepts become even more imperative when establishing management of data-driven business processes between the cloud and on-premises systems. There will need to be an evolution of data management and governance approaches to deal with new challenges that come from data in the cloud and from an integrated approach to managing data across disparate data domains, many of which are not owned by the enterprise.

Cloud services have been very effective in converting (or commoditizing) IT practices through well-formed repeatable processes. To accommodate proper data management for cloud and on-premises solutions, IT and business users will need to work together to build out data management solutions through practices and technologies that support the creation, use and storage of data “anywhere anytime”. Both IT and Business are important to setting the right strategies, including the crafting of a data management architecture that will kick in before an enterprise’s cloud data becomes too distributed for thorough governance. While more and more data will be owned by non-enterprise entities in the cloud, the ownership of comprehensive data management processes and practices continues to fall squarely on the enterprise through business users and IT working to ensure reliable data availability.

About the author: Julie Hunt is an accomplished software industry analyst, providing strategic market and competitive insights. Her 20+ years as a software professional range from the very technical side to customer-centric work in solutions consulting, sales and marketing.  Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt. For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategic Product & Market Intelligence Services.

2 Comments
  1. Timely post, Julie. With a rush to “get things done” businesses risk creating a Tower of Babel data sprawl. It reminds me of when I was on Wall St. in the late 80′s. Mainframe development cycles were glacial, so LOB’s turned to LAN/PC development platforms. These consolidated over the last two decades back into “enterprise” systems. So here we go again. Wonder what the next consolidation will look like.

    -Alan

    • Hey Alan – thanks for stopping by to read the article. You and I have both seen these cycles repeat over time. There are better tools now, but enterprises still have to take seriously the imperative to truly govern all of the data that matters to the enterprise, form good strategies and get the work done.

      Cheers,
      Julie

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