Big or Little Business, Know the Value of Your Data

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Joel Dolisy is a Senior Vice President and CTO and CIO at SolarWinds, an IT management software provider based in Austin, Texas.

Joel-Dolisy_tnJOEL DOLISY
SolarWinds

By now, we’ve all witnessed the power of big data. From the enterprise to retail, government, healthcare and beyond, the way data is harnessed has changed the way we do business and the way we live.

Big data, however, doesn’t seem manageable for every company. For small to mid-sized organizations not equipped for massive data storage and analysis, the big data trend should not be discouraging.

Taking a right-sized, data-centric approach to understanding the value of information stored by organizations of any size begins with the IT pro. At larger companies, there is usually a database administrator (DBA) who has been trained to compile data and provide actionable intelligence. For smaller companies without a dedicated DBA pro, but rather one or two IT pros wearing many hats, it’s important to understand best practices from both a technology and employee perspective to ensure easy access and optimal utilization of data.

Technology

The key to data optimization in smaller organizations is integrating systems in such a way that the non-DBA IT pro is able drive meaningful insights. To do this, technology is required to pull data residing in multiple silos so it can then be correlated and aggregated to provide the additional context necessary to deliver high-level analysis.

For example, if a small to mid-sized company needs to understand customer engagement – including the first visit to its web site, interaction with support and order placement – the information required to gather this timeline is stored in various silos managed by separate applications. In order to provide a normalized view of this disparate information stored in the ERP system, marketing data warehouse and CRM system, it’s crucial that these systems are able to communicate and integrate with each other seamlessly. By creating a central repository for this information, the IT pro enables different teams to leverage the technology, provide key perspectives and utilize the data for multiple business functions.

However, as more and more groups within a company rely on a consolidated set of data, IT pros need to implement role-based functionality to ensure data access control. For instance, sales or revenue data cannot be readily visible to anyone outside of the sales or finance team. Even within those teams, different people will have a different scope of visibility depending on their position within the hierarchy. Therefore when designing a solution that solves a particular set of use-cases, IT pros need to work with company employees to understand how access to the data will be restricted.

Employees

With integration-enabling technology and role-based data access functionality in place, the IT pro can then empower the rest of the business to solve concrete problems specific to different roles within the company. By providing the infrastructure necessary to support those business functions, the IT pro not only solves a short term problem, but also provides direct business impact in terms of unlocking additional sales or providing a better customer service experience.

As different business functions take advantage of this consolidated data perspective, other groups within the company will look at those early adopters and realize the value they can gain from the data as well. The IT pro then can act as a catalyst of data reuse and data consolidation.

In addition to working with employees to implement personalized access, IT should also work closely with leaders in each department to ensure that data currently being harvested is useful, and to understand how to best optimize data collection for each business function. A quick feedback loop is necessary between those stakeholders and the IT team in order to guarantee the solution is providing true business value.

The role of the IT pro at smaller organizations often involves a “jack-of-all-trades” approach, making data collection and analysis (related to what we’re seeing on a larger scale with big data) a formidable task. By integrating technology to create a central system for pulling and viewing data, and working with company employees to ensure optimal data access and usage, IT pros can ensure the solution provided fits within the company’s data strategy and can evolve over time to meet changing business needs.

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