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Putting data to work for everyone in your organization

Director, Product Marketing, InfoSphere, IBM

It seems that everyone these days is interested in big data: using more data, more quickly and making better decisions from it. How does your company interact with data? Or, more specifically, how do business users interact with data?

Let’s take “Mark” for example: a business analyst using analytic applications to drive customer retention and determine new promotional offers. How does Mark think about data? Well, he might think of it as something that is provided to him by IT. He doesn’t feel he has enough of it, but he has no idea where to get more. In fact, he spends 80 percent of his time looking for it, and not enough time actually analyzing it. This is because he can’t easily search for and find data, he does not know the origin of the data he uses, whether it is the most relevant data he could use or if it is accurate, or complete. He does believe, however, that it is well governed because it came from IT.

#makedatawork.pngWhat we have is a bad economy for data. It’s provided from one source (IT) and they have a monopoly—or do they? In a lot of organizations, a black market for data often occurs, one where business users get unauthorized access to data through their informal networks and use it for unsanctioned purposes. Or, they purchase it, and applications, from outside the organization. 

Business users like Mark want a few things:

  • To be able to search for data, find it and get it
  • Data which is relevant and accurate for their purposes 
  • An understanding of related, relevant data that can then be brought in for analysis
  • The ability to shape and prepare the data for their specific usage: changing data names, combining and deleting values as necessary. 

But mostly, Mark really wants one very specific thing, and it’s a very reasonable request: self-service data access within his analytic application.

Fortunately, there is a way to meet Mark’s needs: a data refinery. By ingesting raw data, refining it and making it available to whomever needs in within the organization, a data refinery provides data from the POV of the business user who needs it, and not solely from the POV of the IT practitioner who provides it. A refinery turns on its head the old paradigm that data must be aggregated, organized and prepared beforehand, and then provided to business analysts like Mark. Instead, a data refinery stands ready to get data for Mark, and automatically govern it, cleanse it, secure it and profile it. Of course, it is designed for an IT audience too, but in a different way; IT can now become providers of self-service data access, setting up the rules by which business users can access data safely.

And there is another class of user that also benefits from this self-service data approach: the application developer. Developers often have to build their applications without real data, data integration, governance or security capabilities. That was always something that “was done after the application is built”—but why? If application developers had access to data service APIs, they could build applications that are ready to ingest relevant information from the get-go, and the problem would be fixed right at the source. New applications would be data aware and ready to consume data.

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That is the true benefit of a data refinery: self-service access to everyone within the organization to relevant, safe data. The end benefit is quite dramatic—business analysts, like Mark, spend more time analyzing data, using related data, and ultimately getting better answers for whatever they are tasked to do (such as retaining customers, launching new products or penetrating new markets). They make better decisions because they use more data, in more ways, than they ever have before. 

The most successful organizations think of data as a basic right for business users. Making data available to everyone, easily and quickly, will make your organization smarter. Think about this as applied to your organization: are you working too hard to find and use data? Isn’t it time that data started working for you?

IBM Insight 2014

The impact and benefits of data refinement in the future will be a key topic of discussion and presentation at IBM Insight 2014 in October. Let's continue the discussion there together and address the many areas in the the Information Management track sessions around the value of data, mobile and cloud coming together to #makedatawork.