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Wednesday, 15 December 2021 15:26

Overcoming the challenge of an ‘unhealthy cloud’

By Mark Fazackerley, regional vice president Australia and New Zealand, Talend
Mark Fazackerley, regional vice president Australia and New Zealand, Talend Mark Fazackerley, regional vice president Australia and New Zealand, Talend

GUEST OPINION: Pandemic restrictions have caused big changes within many Australian businesses, and one of the most significant has been a rapid increase in the adoption of cloud resources and services.

With many employees based at home, and a likely permanent shift to hybrid work practices, businesses have realised that traditional IT infrastructures are no longer providing the support and flexibility that is required. Rather than relying on traditional, on-premise systems, they’re increasingly shifting to hosted, hybrid, and multi-cloud alternatives.

Interestingly, it’s a trend that is showing no sign of slowing with many businesses putting cloud spending at the top of their priority lists. They can see the benefits this can deliver and are impatient to make it happen.

However, some caution is required as rapid adoption of more cloud-based resources without a comprehensive data governance strategy can cause problems. Data can end up being spread across multiple locations and become hard to manage and use. In short, you could end up with an ‘unhealthy cloud’.

A new batch of challenges

While making more extensive use of cloud-based resources may have helped many businesses to navigate the challenges caused by COVID-19, it’s also created a range of new problems.

One key problem is that cloud adoption can actually hinder the ability of senior business executives to make data-driven decisions. According to research undertaken by Talend, 96% of APAC executives says they still struggle to base business decisions on their data, with much of the challenge being caused by unhealthy collection and governance practices.

It appears that problems arise because of the speed with which cloud resources were adopted in the early days of the remote-working trend. This resulted in the implementation of new systems and processes without sufficient thought being given to their ongoing impact on operations.

In many cases, adoption of cloud resources was undertaken using what’s known as shadow IT. This occurs when groups within a business adopt a cloud offering without advising the IT department or senior management. A business can end up with multiple services in use and data spread haphazardly between them.

While it might be easy for employees to sign up for services such as Dropbox or Google Drive, such a step can introduce significant risks, inefficiencies, and long-term cost for the business.

For example, two groups of employees might adopt different cloud storage services and store copies of the same data in each. This can result in incongruities as the data now exists in two places, in potentially different formats, and these discrepancies are on no one’s radar.

Situations like this also make data less reliable because it is left unaccounted for and disorganised. In this way, an unreliable or unhealthy cloud leads to bad business decisions.

The role of data fabric

These challenges can result in what has been termed ‘data landfill’. This is where large volumes of data are stored in multiple places and without appropriate management or easy access.

One approach that can resolve this situation is the creation of a data fabric. This prevents data landfills from forming by providing a connective tissue that allows all data to visualised and accessed regardless of where it is physically stored.

A data fabric does away with data landfill by providing a specific data entry point for an entire organisation. The cross-functional visibility it provides gives instant answers to questions such as what data assets each group has, who owns and controls them, and who is using them.

This approach thus creates an environment based on a data health culture. It inspires conversations and collaboration across groups rather than the impulse to stand up a new tool. A data fabric also empowers executives to make much more informed business decisions more quickly.

Improved business agility

Rolling out a data fabric across an organisation’s technology infrastructure can deliver some significant benefits, however effective adoption requires a certain company culture.

It’s not simply a matter of flicking a switch or deploying some new software. Companies must also democratise their data processes and include new data workers at all technical levels so that organisation-wide collaboration becomes the norm.

For example, while data engineers might be the experts in the underlying mechanics of data management, the marketing team may know more about their data’s expected formats, calculations, and metrics. It’s only when the two groups work together that real business benefits are enjoyed.

According to Gartner, which identified data fabric solutions as one of the top strategic technology trends for 2022, "By 2024, data fabric deployments will quadruple efficiency in data utilization while cutting human-driven data management tasks in half."

It’s clear that a data fabric can do much to improve efficiencies and boost business agility, but it’s more than a question of technology. It’s also one of company culture.

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