Do you ever feel as though you're drowning in a sea of big data, or struggling to navigate your way through the choppy waters of data-intensive applications? For most, analytics applications have been the best way for organisations to steer themselves through big data's previously unchartered waters, helping them to not only stay afloat, but to also use it make new and exciting discoveries in the process. But what's the power behind these applications that have allowed us to avoid getting dragged under and ensured that we can go with the flow of the big data current?
There's no doubt that the ability to use applications to surf the big data wave has had a significant impact on the way we conduct business today. It's allowed organisations to gain new insights into their business through new and insightful analytics tools and laid the foundation for entirely new concepts. The Internet of Things is a good example of a more recent trend built on the crest of the big data wave, and one that many experts are predicting will become more and more pervasive over the coming years.
However, as it's becomes easier for organisations to ride the waves of the big data phenomenon, has it also become easier for them to take the tools that have allowed them to achieve this for granted? What's clear is that very few understand exactly what it is that allows their applications to traverse these waters, with most preferring to think only about the parts of the boat they know – the deck, the bridge and the stern, for instance – rather than the propeller underneath that actually powers it.
The truth is that in order to use big data to add business value, a huge amount needs to happen behind the scenes. Indeed, it's no exaggeration to say that without the hard work of the connectors and integrators that do the hard work beneath the surface, most, if not all of the business applications used in industry would be cast hopelessly adrift in the big data sea, setting off distress flares and nervously distributing emergency rations.
In order to ensure that value is added in the right areas, it's worth remembering that there are four fundamental bases that every big data-focused business application requires. Perhaps the best way to think of these four bases are as the blades of a propeller that powers the applications boat and drives it forward through big data's murky waters.
Let's assume that the first of these four blades is focused on integration. It can be easy to overlook the important role that integration plays, and to instead consider big data as one solid mass of easily accessible information. The truth is that data is stored in a variety of formats, stored in a number of different ways. In order to use it to power business applications, data stored in each of these locations and formats – whether it's in the cloud or on premise, for example – must be able to be integrated so that the application can use it.
The second propeller blade must be that of a single, easy-to-use interface. In any organisation there are a number of back-end systems, whether they are databases that store business critical information relating to individual internal departments or customer information stored in a CRM system.
All of these different back-ends must be made accessible through an interface that allows the user to access the information they need without having to change platform or device. In doing so, business users are able to access the information they need, when they need, and where they need it, increasing their efficiency in the process.
The next part of the propellor is made up of – perhaps appropriately, given our nautical theme – the ability to scale. At this point, I should point out that this refers more to the ability to allow new projects to grow quickly and plug into existing applications than anything adorning a fish's skin, but it's nonetheless, an important consideration.
Without the ability to scale, organisations will be unable to quickly and organically increase the size of their business, resulting in significant difficulties as a result.
The fourth and final part of the propeller is that of correctly allocated resources, or the costs and time involved in developing these connections. At first glance, this may seem like a strange addition to our list, but the truth is that the resources required to ensure that a business application is developed and integrated successfully within an organisation are considerably greater than most companies predict. If allocated unrealistically, this misappropriation of resources can result in huge inefficiencies.
What's clear is that in order for applications to add maximum value to businesses, all four pieces of this propeller must work together. Failure to do so could result in business applications becoming misdirected and rudderless, heading in entirely the wrong direction.
By ensuring that all four are in good working order, organisations can sail the big data seas confident in their ability to negotiate even the trickiest conditions, and arrive quickly and easily at their destination!
Tony Fisher is vice president of data collaboration and integration at Progress