We are living in the age of the Data Paradox - and an Intention or Assumption and Reality Gap.
In 2020, simulation research found that the natural assumption that increases in data would make it more likely that data mining would discover valuable new and previously unknown relationships was flawed – in reality, the patterns and associations identified were found to be more spurious. Briefly, this came down to a lack of human-machine partnership, with more people involvement necessitated within AI/ML model specifications to enhance results, and move beyond data volume, to actionable data insights at scale (Smith 2020).
Fast forward a year, and a new Forrester study, commissioned by Dell Technologies brings the Data Paradox centre stage and spans new dimensions impacting business transformation - but also education and societal change. Accelerated by the imperatives of the pandemic, much (but not all) of the world has catapulted to an ‘always on and accessible everywhere’ model when it comes to data, enabling almost limitless opportunities for digital innovation; but with this, necessitating new requirements and raising new expectations and challenges around data. And for many organisations, currently data volume ≠ data value.
It is clear that we have reached a critical moment where we need to move beyond data ubiquity to data intelligence ubiquity too - Sally Eaves
So what are these key data paradoxes impacting upon scalable sustainable change? 3 core areas come to the fore in the Forrester study. It is clear that while businesses today are generating, collecting, managing – and wanting - more data than ever before, not all optimise the value that can be derived from it.
1. Businesses believe they are data-driven but they don’t prioritize the use of data across the organization.
2. Businesses need more data, but they have more data than they can handle right now.
3. Many businesses believe in ‘As A Service’ benefits, but only a few have made the transition to such a model.
Overall, data overload and the inability to extract insights from data emerges as the third highest barrier to digital transformation in Dell Technologies’ latest Digital Transformation Index (DT Index) findings. Only 13% of companies surveyed are taking full advantage of the data at their disposal to become Data Champions, finding the optimal balance between cultural and technological readiness. Key barriers identified include business and data silos, use of manual processes that are too slow to meet business needs which are also increasingly real-time, and a lack of in-house data and technical skills.
Without action, this is a trajectory poised to continue, as ‘humans and machines will generate, at minimum, 175 Zettabytes of data over the next five years alone’ according to findings in Dell’s recent ‘Zettabyte World’ ebook. And this is all coupled with navigating an accelerating rate of change, uncertainty and complexity. A recent survey found 97% of global IT professionals went through some form of digital transformation in 2020, with three out of five stating they experienced a ‘large amount’ of change (Software AG). And with additional research finding leaders prepared to literally ‘rip out’ extant organisational strategy to move beyond often reactive resiliency, to proactive agility to change, the time is now to ensure we optimise the breadth and depth of insights that data can bring – in other words, to create data capital.
So how do we overcome the data challenges to turn them into opportunities? Firstly the Forrester study shows hope on the horizon:
· 69% plan to deploy machine learning to automate anomaly detection
· 60% intend to move to a data as a service model
· 59% plan to improve the data lakes that they have
And secondly, we are seeing an active response to address the needs identified. At the recent Dell Technologies World Digital Experience, a shift in emphasis from technology provider to technology enabler came centre stage, with a focus on supporting organisations - from enterprise right through to SME - to be able to ‘deliver on data’ and accelerate their digital and data driven transformations. As CTO John Roese succinctly stated:
‘Because our data is diverse, the IT Infrastructure that runs it needs to be diverse too’
At the heart of actualising this was the announcement of Dell’s new flagship as-a-service portfolio known as APEX, which is available now. This affords on-demand Infrastructure, Storage, Servers and Networking that is fit for purpose to address modern consumption needs via a cloud based service model, and providing an outcome based approach to procure technology. With APEX, typical ‘trade-off’ decisions are removed, so you can integrate the security and control of your data centre, alongside the speed and power of the public cloud. The portfolio also helps to reduce complexity and enhance unification with a console that offers ‘single pane-of-glass’ visibility to manage all the services. In the media briefing ahead of the event, Sam Grocott, SVP of marketing described the APEX difference – and how this is front and centre in Dell’s evolution too. Exciting times!
‘Plainly stated, Apex is Dell Technologies' portfolio as-a-service offering [that] will simplify digital transformation, and increase agility and control - essentially, with Apex, we're in the process of creating the new Dell’
A further key takeaway for me was the criticality of investment in culture and skills alongside technology. A recommended session to explore ‘on demand’ features leading author Adam Grant and Dell’s Chief Human Resource Officer, Jenn Saavedra. I loved the focus on refreshing 'Mental Fossils' embracing unlearning, normalising vulnerability and building confident humility - I found many echoes around steam learning approaches here too. Much to reflect on across education and the future of work, especially around the valuing of holistic skills – which are often an underexplored aspect of data literacy. Some key thoughts here:
1- Think like a scientist. Test your hunches - Experiment, Observe, Identify reasons you might be wrong. Do not let your ideas become your identity - unlearning is good!
2- Build your challenge network of 'disagreeable givers' who will give you feedback generously, honestly and will make you think hard!
3- Make time to rethink - this could be an hour a week to yourself or a couple hours every few weeks with your team, but a moment to pause, reflect and reframe.
And my final event takeaway is the enduring and evolving power of partnership – one example being the announcement of a new arrangement with Equinix that will see Dell managing the infrastructure in an Equinix data centre of a customer's choice, and consolidating colocation costs into one single bill. And beyond this still, we saw the benefits of partnership to sense and respond to new ways of living, learning and working with superb collaborations for inclusion and social impact endeavours. Good science needs good infrastructure! and during the event we were treated to a deep dive on some incredible Data Science examples from ocean conversation to healthcare and space!
In combination, with technology, methodology, process, culture and skills investment and alignment we can begin to move beyond the 4 V's of data that are Volume Veracity Velocity & Variety – to that vital fifth, data Value. We can address the data paradoxes identified and begin to move beyond data overload to data as capital, data as democratisation and data as new services. To explore more of the Dell Tech World content, all sessions are available on demand here and to learn more about the Forrester study, you can access an executive summary here too. Plus for Apex, here is the dedicated news hub!
Disclaimer: This article was sponsored by Dell, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell Technologies’ positions or strategies’.
Dr. Sally Eaves is a highly experienced Chief Technology Officer, Professor in Advanced Technologies and a Global Strategic Advisor on Digital Transformation specialising in the application of emergent technologies, notably AI, FinTech, Blockchain & 5G disciplines, for business transformation and social impact at scale. An international Keynote Speaker and Author, Sally was an inaugural recipient of the Frontier Technology and Social Impact award, presented at the United Nations in 2018 and has been described as the ‘torchbearer for ethical tech’ founding Aspirational Futures to enhance inclusion, diversity and belonging in the technology space and beyond.