Five Things This Tech Leader Wishes Everyone Knew About Data

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Big data has become so big that trying to quantify it makes your head spin.

More than 64 zettabytes of data were generated in 2020 by social media sites, financial institutions, medical facilities, e-commerce platforms, sensors, and countless other online activities, according to IDC. A zettabyte is equal to one sextillion bytes. Put another way, one zettabyte has 21 zeros.

There are now 40 times more bytes than there are stars in the observable universe, according to the World Economic Forum.

Needless to say, businesses are increasingly reliant on data for decision-making around strategy, growth, and innovation, and must treat it as a priceless asset. The opportunity is massive, and smart organizations understand that it’s theirs for the taking.

Maximizing that opportunity, however, requires doing data right. That means adopting best practices to turn the data companies collect into a source of competitive advantage and avoiding common mistakes that can undermine data strategies.

Here are five pieces of advice I think every organization should take to heart.

1.    Ditch cost-center thinking.

I still see too many organizations that view the IT department and the initiatives within it as expensive overhead. That hits home for data analytics projects when higher-ups question the cloud consumption costs they entail.


Companies should reframe their focus away from the purse strings and toward a careful consideration of how better collecting, managing, and analyzing data can present new opportunities for competitive advantage. If, to quote a favorite industry axiom, “data is the new oil,” the value of the oil should be seen as exceeding the cost of the wells.

2.    Celebrate ROI.

At nearly every company, marketing departments are adept at justifying their existence. They regularly set and are judged against metrics showing their results and return on investment. If they can prove great ROI, they can keep going back to the CEO or CFO to argue for substantial budgets.

Why should data endeavors be any different? I suggest that any team working on data-related projects pay close attention to how they demonstrate their ROI. It’s very possible that not everyone in the C-suite appreciates the value of these efforts, so proactively show them. That’s the best way to keep and increase budget.

3.    Never skimp on security.

In a world of seemingly endless cyberattacks, companies should never cut corners on data security. Surprisingly, though, some do, when they should be adopting a strict mindset of “you can never be too secure.”

An example of wrong thinking: “Encryption is great, but we’ll probably be fine and we’ll save money if we just stick with a firewall solution.” Correct thinking: “Let’s do anything and everything to protect our data to the fullest extent. The costs of a breach are too high.”

It can take 20 years to build a brand, and five minutes for a cybercriminal to damage it. A business should avoid the temptation to be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to data security defense.

4.    Sweat the details on data quality and consistency.

“Measure twice, cut once,” the old saying goes. Companies can’t leverage their data unless they know it is clean, accurate, and maintains consistency even if aggregated from multiple sources.

It’s critical for an organization to know where all of its data is, how it’s formatted and where it needs to go. For example, a consumer goods company must be able to track the journey of every product from manufacturing to distribution to the store. Inconsistent data along the way causes visibility holes and management headaches.

Businesses should turn to techniques such as Master Data Management and Metadata Management help to catalogue and ensure consistency in their data.

5.    Embrace the cloud.

The instantly scalable, pay-as-you-go cloud model offers huge flexibility for data projects. Organizations have the freedom to experiment, without a large upfront capital investment. It’s easier to “fail fast” and move on to the next promising project.

The cloud isn’t just a way for companies to cut IT costs; it’s a potent engine of data-driven innovation.

By following these five tips, businesses can be well prepared for a world in which big data just keeps getting bigger and its role as a vital business asset continues to grow.

About the Author

Mark Van de Wiel is Vice President of Technology at HVR – a Fivetran company, a provider of real-time cloud data replication technology. Mark brings a strong background in data replication as well as real-time Business Intelligence and analytics to his role at HVR – a Fivetran company. Most recently, at Actian Corporation, Mark led a team of high performing solution architects. Prior to that, Mark developed extensions to Oracle’s GoldenGate replication product. Throughout his 15+ year career, Mark has expanded his responsibilities from consultant to product management and business development. Mark holds an MSc in Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences from the Eindhoven University of Technology.

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