Realizing Maximum Value From Corporate Data Starts With Collaboration
Data is even more valuable than you think—at least this is the view of Mike Cain, a database consultant with IBM Lab Services.
By Neil Tardy04/01/2018
Businesses that rely upon the IBM Power Systems* platform running IBM i don’t need to be told that their corporate data is important. Certainly, they know that this information can yield valuable business benefits, and after hearing about numerous hacks and breaches of large organizations over the years, they obviously recognize the critical need to secure client data.
However, data is even more valuable than you think—at least this is the view of Mike Cain, a database consultant with IBM Lab Services. Yes, data is important and must be protected, but that level of understanding isn’t sufficient. And because most IBM i clients fail to recognize the true value of their data, they ultimately fail to realize the maximum value of this data.
The Parallels Between Data and Money
Cain describes data as “the new currency.” While you may think that sounds like a splashy marketing phrase, rest assured, he’s thought this through.
“Data really is like money,” he continues. “Data is an asset, which means it must be stored correctly, it must be protected adequately and it must be put to work effectively.”
When speaking to individual clients or groups of people, Cain expounds on this idea through an extended line of questioning. He starts with something simple: Where do you keep your money? The answers that follow, Cain adds, are universal.
“I’ll ask, ‘Is all your money in your pocket?’ and they start laughing. Then I’ll ask, ‘Is all your money under your bed?’ ‘Is all your money in the cookie jar?’ More laughter,” he says. Eventually, some serious answers emerge. “I say, ‘Where’s your money?’ and I’ll hear, ‘My money’s in the bank.’ I say, ‘Why a bank?’ Usually the response is, ‘Because it’s safe.’
“OK, that’s the protected part,” says Cain. “That’s security.”
He continues by asking audience members if they invest their money, and why. Invariably, the answers are “yes” and “to make more money.” Then Cain asks how they access their funds, and if audience members have banking apps on their phones. All the hands go up. This is another key point in his analogy: People store their money so it can be conveniently accessed. Businesses should likewise handle their data.
Finally, he takes it in a different direction, inquiring about internet usage habits. “I’ll say, ‘How many of you use Google?’ All the hands go up. ‘How many have Facebook?’ Most of the hands go up. ‘How many use Twitter?’ ‘How many use Instagram?’ I just start naming a bunch of stuff, and the hands go up.
“Then I’ll ask, ‘How many of you pay for Google, Facebook and everything else?’ No hands go up,” Cain says.
But Cain doesn’t stop there. “I say, ‘Wait a minute: These are some of the richest, most profitable companies in the world. How are they making money then?’ ” he says. “It’s because they’re accumulating and using your data. They’re putting your data to work for them, and you should do the same with your data.”
Modernize, Then Revitalize Db2 Databases
For IBM i environments, realizing maximum value from corporate data starts with collaboration. IT and business leaders must work together to create a database environment that’s capable of fulfilling current and future requirements.
But for now, let’s consider this from a technical standpoint. Clients need to update their database environments—work that generally entails a combination of modernization and revitalization.
“Most customers—I would argue 99 percent of them—have very old and improperly architected database models,” Cain says. “So, while they are using a relational database, they’re not taking full advantage of all of the relational capabilities and all of the data-centric capabilities that are inherent in the OS. They code in functionality rather than allow the database to do more work on their behalf.”
“Data really is like money. Data is an asset, which means it must be stored correctly, it must be protected adequately and it must be put to work effectively.”—Mike Cain, database consultant, IBM Lab Services
Allowing the database to do more work is certainly the goal of any database modernization project. Through the use of modern development tools and other techniques, legacy code that continues to power critical applications in many IBM i enterprises can be extended to the web as well as mobile applications and other areas. The topic of modernization is covered in detail in “Taking Action on Modernization” (bit.ly/2oqLBPy).
Revitalization is basically a subset of modernization. Cain uses the term to emphasize that, regardless of the presence of legacy code, the core of your database environment—Power Systems hardware, Db2* and IBM i—is already modern. So, while modernization is ultimately what you’re endeavoring to accomplish, revitalization involves extending the existing relational database infrastructure through specific, targeted enhancements that provide new capabilities and allow for greatest efficiency.
“If you’re using a relational database, you can keep doing so in Db2 for i, just do it better,” he says. “Revitalize what you’re doing. Literally think outside the box.”
What sort of enhancements are we talking about? That depends upon your business needs—present and future. For instance, if you need to store, manage or analyze a large amount of specialized documents—ranging from JSON docs to unstructured, nonrelational data such as images, graphs or key value customer data—consider an open-source database or investigate Database as a Service options. An array of database technologies are available now, meaning that polyglot storage environments are becoming the norm. Going forward, matching specific requirements to specific capabilities and strengths will be essential in database development.
New Currency, New Way of Thinking
Again, on the tech side, doing more and doing better with data doesn’t require you to start anew. But it does require a new way of thinking about the traditional relationship between IT and the executive level. Cain believes that everyone involved must be willing to change. IT must recognize the need for change and respond to business initiatives and end user needs. Meanwhile, management should no longer think of IT as a cost of doing business. If data is the new currency, then the IT department, as the caretaker of the data, is not an expense, but an asset.
“Executives and users want an environment that’s flexible, scalable and timely. If there’s a change in the business, that change should be accommodated in IT as soon as possible. New ideas should be implemented as soon as possible. New acquisitions should be consumed as soon as possible. What I tell clients, who are mostly from the IT world, is that if you don’t embrace the things we’re talking about, you’ll be bypassed. The business people will just go off and do it.
“You can’t keep doing the same things,” Cain adds. “Everyone will have to change and everyone will have to learn.”
Neil Tardy is a contributing writer to IBM Systems Magazine.