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It's the Size of Your Data That Counts - and How You Use It

By Dana Gardner
Apr 18, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Let's examine how the tough economy has accelerated the progression toward more data-driven business decisions. To enable speedy proactive business analysis, information management (IM) has arisen as an essential ingredient for making business intelligence (BI) for these decisions pay off.

It's the Size of Your Data That Counts - and How You Use It

Yet IM itself can become unwieldy, as well as difficult to automate and scale. So managing IM has become an area for careful investment. Where then should those investments be made for the highest analytic business return? How do companies better compete through the strategic and effective use of its information?

We'll look at some use case scenarios with executives from HP to learn how effective IM improves customer outcomes, while also identifying where costs can be cut through efficiency and better business decisions.

To get to the root of IM best practices and value, please join me in welcoming our guests, Brooks Esser, worldwide marketing lead for information management solutions at HP; John Santaferraro, director of marketing and industry communications for BI solutions at HP; and Vickie Farrell, manager of market strategy for BI solutions at HP. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.


Listen to the podcast (36:42 minutes).

Here are some excerpts:

John Santaferraro: The customers that we work with tend to have very complex businesses, and because of that, very complex information requirements. It used to be that they looked primarily at their structured data as a source of insight into the business. More recently, the concern has moved well beyond business intelligence to look at a combination of unstructured data, text data, IM. There's just a whole lot of different sources of information.

The idea that they can have some practices across the enterprise that would help them better manage information and produce real value and real outcomes for the business is extremely relevant.

If you look at the information worker or the person who has to make decisions on the front line, if you look at those kinds of people, the truth is that most of them need more than just data and analysis. In a lot of cases, they will need a document, a contract. They need all of those different kinds of data to give them different views to be able to make the right decision. ...

I'd like to think of it as actually enterprise IM. It's looking across the entire business and being able to see across the business. It's information, all types of information as we identify structured, unstructured documents, scanned documents, video assets, media assets. ...

By effectively using the information they have and further leveraging the investments that they've already made, there is going to be significant cost savings for the business. A lot of it comes out of just having the right insight to be able to reduce costs overall. There are even efficiencies to be had in the processing of information. It can cost a lot of money to capture data, to store it, and cleanse it.

Then it's about the management, the effective management of all of those information assets to be able to produce real business outcomes and real value for the business. ... Obviously, the companies that figure out how to streamline the handling and the management of their information are going to have major cost reductions overall.

Brooks Esser: This is really becoming the way that leading-edge companies compete. I've seen a lot of research that suggests that CEOs are becoming increasingly interested in leveraging data more effectively in their decision-making processes.

It used to be fairly simple. You would simply identify your best customers, market like heck to them, and try to maximize the revenue derived from your best customers.

Now, what we're seeing is emphasis on getting the data right and applying analytics to an entire customer base, trying to maximize revenue from a broader customer base.

We're going to talk about a few cases today where entities got the data right, they now serve their customers better, reduced cost at the same time, and increased their profitability. ...

We think of IM as having four pillars. The first is the infrastructure, obviously -- the storage, the data warehousing, information integration that kind of ties the infrastructure together.

The second piece, which is very important, is governance. That includes things like data protection, master data management, compliance, and e-discovery.

The third is information processes. We start talking about paper-based information, digitizing documents and getting them into the mix. Those first three pillars taken together really form the basis of an IM environment. They're really the pieces that allow you to get the data right.

The fourth pillar, of course, is the analytics, the insight that business leaders can get from the analytics about the information. The two, obviously, go hand in hand. Rugged information infrastructure for your analytics isn't any better than poor infrastructure with solid analytics. Getting both pieces of that right is very, very important. ...

[And, again,] governance processes are the key to everything I talked about earlier -- the pillars of a solid IM environment. Governance [is] about protecting data, quality, compliance and the whole idea of master data management -- limiting access and making sure that right people have access to input data and that data is of high-quality.

Vickie Farrell: We recently surveyed a number of data warehouse and BI users. We found that 81 percent of them either have a formal data governance process in place or they expect to invest in one in the next 12 months. ...

What we've seen in the last couple of years is serious attention on investing in that data structure -- getting the data right, as we put it. It's establishing a high level of data quality, a level of trust in the data for users, so that they are able to make use of those tools and really glean from that data the insight and information that they need to better manage their business.

A couple of years ago, I remember, a lot of pundits were talking about BI becoming pervasive, because tools have gotten more affordable and easier to use. Therefore anybody with a smartphone or PDA or laptop computer was going to be able to do heavy-duty analysis.

Of course, that hasn't happened. There is more limiting the wide use of BI than the tools themselves. One of the biggest issues is the integration of the data, the quality of the data, and having a data foundation in an environment where the users can really trust it and use it to do the kind of analysis that they need to do.

The more effectively you bring together the IT people and the business people and get them aligned, the better the acceptance is going to be. You certainly can mandate use of the system, but that's really not a best practice. That's not what you want to do.

By making the information easily accessible and relevant to the business users and showing them that they can trust that data, it's going to be a more effective system, because they are going to be more likely to use it and not just be forced to use it.

Esser: Organizations all over the world are struggling with an expansion of information. In some companies, you're seeing data doubling one year over the next. It's creating problems for the storage environment. Managers are looking at processes like de-duplication to try to reduce the quantity of information.

Then you're getting pressure from business leaders for timely and accurate information to make decisions with. So the challenge for a CIO is that you've got to balance the cost of IT, the cost of governance and risk issues involved in information, while at the same time, providing real insight to your business unit customer. It's a tough job.

Farrell: Well, one key example comes to mind. It's an insurance company that we have worked with for several years. It's a regional health insurance company faced with competition from national companies. They decided that they needed to make better use of their data to provide better services for their members, the patients as well as the providers, and also to create a more streamlined environment for themselves.

And so, to bring the IT and business users together, they developed an enterprise data warehouse that would be a common resource for all of the data. They ensured that it was accurate and they had a certain level of data quality.

They had outsourced some of the health management systems to other companies. Diabetes was outsourced to one company. Heart disease was outsourced to another company. It was expensive. By bringing it in house, they were able to save the money, but they were also able to do a better job, because they could integrate the data from one patient, and have one view of that patient.

That improved the aggregate wellness score overall for all of their patients. It enabled them to share data with the care providers, because they were confident in the quality of that data. It also saved them some administrative cost, and they recouped the investment in the first year. ...

Another thing that we're doing is working with several health organizations in states in the US. We did one project several years ago and we are now in the midst of another one. The idea here is to integrate data from many different sources. This is health data from clinics, schools, hospitals, and so on throughout the state.

Doing this gives you the opportunity to bring together and integrate in a meaningful way data from all these different sources. Once that's been done, that can serve not only these systems, but also some of the potential systems more real-time systems that we see coming down the line, like emergency surveillance systems that would detect terrorist threat, bioterrorism threats, pandemics, and things like that.

It's important to understand and be able to get this data integrated in a meaningful way, because more real-time applications and more mission-critical applications are coming and there is not going to be the time to do the manual integration.


Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Follow Dana Gardner on Twitter. Disclosure: HP sponsored this podcast.


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