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Data infrastructure is the bedrock of the new digital world

(Image credit: Future)

You may have seen a popular post doing the rounds on social media right now. It asks, “who led the digital transformation of your company?” with three possible responses: CEO, CTO or Covid-19 – with a big red ring around the latter. The point is many companies who had only been dipping their toe in digital transformation have had a sudden shove head-first into a digital-only way of operating. And yes, this is likely to be the “new normal”.

The lockdown restrictions currently in place all over the world will of course loosen and eventually dissipate altogether – indeed, it’s starting to happen in some countries already – but for the vast majority of industries, the post-Covid future remains largely unclear. The more optimistic business leaders will be anticipating a v-shaped recovery, followed by a rapid proliferation in digital innovation and data-enabled services. Pessimists on the other hand will look at the long, hard road to recovery ahead and see a tightening of purse strings as companies put digital transformation on the back burner.

Even before the current crisis, around 70 per cent of companies either had a digital transformation strategy in place or were working on one and I think it’s unlikely many will abandon those plans – although they may change course. In fact, according to IDC digital transformation spending is expected to continue at a solid pace despite the pandemic and is forecast to grow by 10.4 per cent in 2020. But the crisis has left those companies that were slow off the mark in the transformation race at a real disadvantage, struggling to catch-up with more agile, digital-first competitors. For many, accelerating digital transformation won’t be a choice, it will be a necessity.

Of course, in the midst of a global economic slump, driving cost-efficiencies wherever possible will be top of mind for most leaders. But considering $900 billion of the $1.3 trillion businesses invested in digital transformation last year was wasted (according to McKinsey), they will need to tread carefully and make smarter decisions. At a time like this, no one can afford to put money into projects that aren’t making returns. So how can businesses remain competitive, cost-efficient and innovative in the aftermath of Covid-19?

1) Use data to create new customer experiences

In March, British online grocery service Ocado experienced such a surge in demand they feared they were under attack from hackers. With high-street retailers closed, even consumers who had never before purchased something online suddenly found themselves dependent on online stores. And it’s not just ecommerce either, every industry from healthcare to banking has seen an uptick in digital adoption.

We’re seeing a shift in consumer behaviour and an acceleration of a trend that has been on the rise for years: people increasingly engaging with companies through digital-only touchpoints. Even once things have returned to some semblance of normality, these habits are likely to stick around. In response, companies will need to shift from a product-focused mindset to a consumer-focused one – developing new digital offerings that enhance their customer experience through greater personalisation and efficiency. Delivering these experiences will mean squeezing every ounce of value out of their data. So how can they do that?

2) The right infrastructure will unlock data insights

Having the right infrastructure and a clear data strategy in place will be absolutely essential if companies want to get the most out of their data. Why? It removes siloes associated with legacy technology, allows for increased agility and collaboration between teams, as well as reliable, always-on security and data governance. It is essential to enable having the right data in the right place at the right time.

IDC has predicted that by 2025 worldwide data will grow by 61 per cent to 175 zettabytes and the vast majority of that will be unstructured. Currently, many businesses still struggle to get value from unstructured data. In fact, it’s thought that only around 1 per cent of it gets analysed or used at all, largely because it’s harder to store and not easily searchable. Partnering reliable storage with a robust data management approach will ensure unstructured data is available, secure, shareable and easier to analyse.          

Having a clear data strategy in place from the offset will maximise the potential of a company’s storage solution and should take into account the human element of data storage – ensuring data is accessible to the right employees, that mission-critical data is backed-up and of course that a disaster recovery plan is in place.

If there’s one thing the current crisis has taught us, it’s that you can never think too far ahead. But it’s also reminded us that the future can be wildly unpredictable. Companies will need to think long-term when laying out their strategy, finding scalable, flexible storage solutions that can meet their demands both now and further down the line. Smaller enterprises may also want to consider Storage-as-a-Service (STaaS) or flexible consumption models so as to have greater flexibility over their storage expenditure during economically challenging periods.

3) Keep digital transformation gatekeepers singing from the same hymn sheet

A common theme I’ve noticed from conversations with customers pre-Covid is that CDOs are often laser-focused on extracting value from their data and put the lions-share of budgets towards driving their own digital transformation projects, but they don’t tend to spend much time thinking about the state of their data storage. And that leaves CIOs with a shoestring budget to ensure the right infrastructure is in place to enable this transformation. While the CEO, CIO, CTO and CDO may all be pushing for digital transformation, often their priorities will look different. But all parties must be in alignment to ensure transformation roadmaps cover all bases and that infrastructure isn’t left as an afterthought.

The power of partnership

This is the time for the channel to really step up. Many companies will turn to their partners over the coming months and years to achieve what I’ve discussed here. There’s a real opportunity for partners to prove their value and strengthen relationships by helping customers continue their transformation journey through the challenging times to come.

Tom Pegrume, Vice President EMEA Partners and Alliances, Hitachi Vantara