Organizations need to rethink their data architectures and strategies

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Emerging technologies, dwindling resources, and rapidly increasing data requirements will drive the need to re-evaluate our data architecture and strategy.

Some version of the need to re-imagine foundational data infrastructure always seems to make yearly prediction lists, but this year feels different. Our data environments are maturing, and times are changing (aren’t they always?). It is time to make new and different decisions. The decisions don’t have to be grand or revolutionary either, they just need to be made and enacted.

A common mistake when rethinking data strategy and our data architecture is to wait to carefully design and orchestrate a complete overhaul. After all, no one wants to go through such an overwhelming and possibly painful process of redesign only to find themselves back in a convoluted mess of a data environment. The typical answer to avoid the mess? Careful, methodical, meticulous planning to develop the ultimate panacea for all data woes. It’s just not possible.

In some ways, managing an evolving data environment is like raising children. We can’t put them in a proverbial bubble and protect them from all that life will throw at them (and us). As they grow and mature, what life throws changes, sometimes for the good and sometimes the bad.

We don’t pick a year and say to our child(ren), “This…this is the year where I finally find a way to protect you from all harm and equip you with the tools for all your life’s successes.” No, we instead load up on the band aids, refine our pep talks, ensure duct-tape is close at hand, and prepare ourselves to shift in strategy as the latest and greatest challenges come rolling at us, all while the overarching plan of developing independent, strong individuals guides our every decision.

Our data environments should be no different. Let’s look at what this year is going to bring and prepare to help our data babies (they will always be our babies, right?) to grow just a little bit more. One day we are going to look up and see mature, thriving data ecosystems and be proud of how they have grown and developed through the years.

So, what will we see in 2019?

Consumer data expectations increase

With recently enacted privacy laws and regulations around the world, most expect that consumers will have significantly increased expectations for privacy and security measures when managing sensitive data. While true, privacy and security are not “nice-to-haves” or expectations when managing consumer data – they are table stakes. It is not just that consumers will expect that appropriate security/privacy measures are in place, but more so that if they are not, they will not do business. Period.

Privacy and security, however, are not where we will see the greatest change or increase in consumer expectations. As consumers begin to understand how companies can use their data to create more engaging experiences and deliver more value, customers will accordingly demand more. Consumers will expect digital engagement, and the easier it makes their lives, the better. Effortless environments will exponentially increase the consumer’s willingness to engage and ultimately share even more of their data.

The dirty little secret that companies use consumer data will no longer be taboo but rather anticipated. With the use of behavioral data and customer segmentation out in the open, customers will expect companies to digitally deliver more value. In other words, customers will consistently demand companies to demonstrate what’s in it for them, with the them being the consumer, of course. The company that delivers the most value in the most effortless environment will win. Every time.

Increased transparency will demand greater reporting capabilities

As the use of consumer data becomes more mainstream, trust in the use of this data will be rooted in transparency. It will not be enough to issue annual privacy statements or provide opt-out options. Transparency in data use will need to be baked in to corporate culture, written into corporate social responsibility statements, and communicated as part of the overall corporate brand.

The need to demonstrate transparency at any given time will require companies to significantly broaden their reporting capabilities, especially externally for consumers. Companies will be expected to clearly and accurately show how data is data is collected, managed, used, and shared. Consumers expect that they will have access to lineage, definition, and explanation of data use. While self-service access for transparency requests will be the preference; immediate response to inquiry will be the bare minimum accepted response. Companies who cannot meet these requests will quickly find themselves without customers.

Security breaches will increase in complexity

Consumers are not the only ones aware of the upsurge in value of digital transactions. Equally aware, if not more so, are hackers. The complexity of security breaches is going to dramatically increase as hackers not only look to gain access to data, but also to the networks, applications and devices through which data flows and is used. Companies will not only have to work to protect data, but also significantly increase their cybersecurity monitoring and protection efforts to safeguard their software, hardware, and network infrastructures.

With the proliferation of mobile devices as beginning and endpoints of digital transactions, businesses will have a new area of protection to consider. Mobile applications will be a strong target for hackers as well as the networks on which they run. Large scale mobile network providers are prime targets much like the ever-growing network of IoT devices or the comprehensive cloud services providers.

The more that is connected; the more data generated and moving throughout networks and device to device; the more information processed and stored; the more the attraction for hackers. We will see more sophisticated attacks on conduit devices and large-scale networks as well as longer dwell times from hackers to exploit configurations, alter code or data to compromise integrity, or develop long-term residence to avoid detection in preparation for unprecedented, extensive attacks.

Expanded governance a necessity

To meet growing customer expectations, deliver transparency, protect consumers, and safeguard the business, companies must broaden their scope of governance. Data governance is no longer a good idea but an absolute imperative. However, traditional data governance approaches of ensuring the appropriate management of data assets will not be enough.

Governance will need to expand to a cross-functional, enterprise approach to address all the needs, expectations, risks, and concerns businesses will face. While many organizations will continue to try to centralize governance efforts, the majority will not realize until failure that distributed responsibility with discrete accountability will be necessary to manage all aspects of the maturing data environment.

Data governance will not only need to include comprehensive data management, but also privacy, security, ethical use, legal and compliance, network/infrastructure protection, cyber security, and marketing and brand communication.

This is not an exhaustive list. The required stakeholders will shift with the needs and expectations of your consumers and your business.

In parenting, they say later in life, when we are reflecting, we will only remember the good times and we won’t even remember our struggles. My kids, all boys, are 11, 10, and 5. I absolutely don’t believe I won’t remember some of our agonizing growing pains. I also don’t believe, as data professionals, that we will forget the sting of some of the punches we take. But, I do believe, in both situations, we will be proud of what we help develop through the test of time.

2019, like any other year, will not be the year of data actualization or the realization of data perfection. But, it will be a year of fantastic growth and development. Here’s to this year’s plan, good decisions, band-aids, duct tape, major milestones, and even some minor setbacks, as we help our data environments develop and mature and watch them grow even more.

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