What is mass data fragmentation, and why are IT leaders so worried about it?

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There are many reasons why digital transformation is top of mind in boardroom discussions today. It has promised us higher quality products and services, improved customer engagement, employee productivity enhancements, operational efficiencies and cost savings. But ‘digital transformation’ is a long, ongoing process, and not just a simple case of investing in better technology or telling employees to “be more digital”. In fact, it’s a journey in its own right, and one that is different for every company, with various challenges.

You will find however, that all enterprises, no matter the size or industry, share one thing of common value when it comes to this process. Data. Data is the lifeblood of any digital process within a business and subsequently one of the most valuable resources in the digital business era. Unfortunately, at the same time, data has also become one of the biggest obstacles to digital transformation and achieving true business excellence.

Mass data fragmentation a major business threat

Why is this the case? We believe one of the major culprits is a phenomenon called mass data fragmentation. This is essentially just a technical way of saying “data that is siloed, scattered and copied all over the place” leading to an incomplete view of the data and an inability to extract real value from it. Most of the data in question is what’s called secondary data: data sets used for backups, archives, object stores, file shares, test and development, and analytics. Secondary data makes up the vast majority of an organisation’s data (approximately 80 per cent).

This is a staggering proportion of the world’s data. If you think about an iceberg, primary data sits above the surface and is likely stored in data centres on-premises, while secondary data sits below and can be found in a host of locations, both on-premises, in the cloud and at the edge. The data below the surface is typically difficult to analyse and is often considered dark data because IT professionals don’t know what it consists of, where it’s located or how to take action on it. This poor visibility leads to a host of challenges, including major compliance risks and vulnerabilities.

Mass data fragmentation is not only concerning IT leaders globally, but CIOs as well. It’s easy to see why. As data volumes continue to skyrocket, companies that are able to successfully manage and harness the power of that data stand to win when it comes to offering top notch customer experiences and competitive differentiation. Think about the competitive advantage that successful digital-first businesses such as Amazon and Google have today. On the other hand, those businesses that can’t get in front of mass data fragmentation issues face serious disadvantages that may jeopardise success for years to come.

IT teams vocal about their concerns

So, just how bad is this mass data fragmentation problem and how it is impacting IT teams around the world? To get to the bottom of these questions, Cohesity surveyed 900 IT leaders at global enterprises across the UK, US, France, Germany, Australia and Japan, with an average revenue of $10.5bn. 

Our research showed that in many cases, instead of treating their secondary data as a competitive asset, most organisations view it as a very expensive storage bill, an unending management headache, a growing compliance risk and even a threat to morale in IT.

According to the survey findings, more than a third of organisations currently use at least six point products to manage all of their secondary data operations, with some organisations using as many as 11 to 15. At the same time, data copies are multiplying. 63 per cent of organisations have between 4-15 copies of the same data. Data is increasingly spread across multiple locations, both on-premises and in the public cloud, which paradoxically then creates the need for yet even more copies of the same data. 

If IT is expected to manage all the organisation’s secondary data and apps across all locations, but the technology isn’t in place to accomplish that goal, IT leaders are understandably worried about a wide array of major problems occurring in several different areas. As much as 38 per cent of IT leaders fear massive turnover of the IT team, 26 per cent fear they (or members of their team) will consider quitting their jobs, 43 per cent fear the culture with the IT team will take a nosedive and 42 per cent fear employee satisfaction and morale will decrease.

Already today, 87 per cent of respondents believe their organisation’s secondary data is or will become nearly impossible to manage long term. And nearly half of respondents say their IT team spends at least 30 per cent of their time managing their organisation’s secondary data. Moving forward, almost 100 per cent believe it will consume significantly more time – up to 16 additional weeks per year, without more effective tools. Clearly, the threat of an additional 16 weeks a year could severely diminish work / life balance and threaten employee morale as a result. 

The time is right to re-allocate precious resources

If mass data fragmentation was managed effectively, not only could IT leaders feel assured that their concerns were being taken seriously, but companies may see a significant impact on their bottom line. 91 per cent of senior IT decision makers said that if half the amount of IT resources spent managing their organisations secondary data were reallocated to other business critical IT actions, it could have a positive impact on revenues over a five-year period. Of those who share this belief, nearly 30 per cent of respondents believe this adjustment could positively increase revenues by at least 6 per cent over a five-year period, while nearly 10 per cent believe this could impact revenues by 8-10 per cent or more. With average revenues of companies in the survey above $10Bn, that would translate to roughly $800 to $1B in new revenue opportunities.

Companies want to embrace digital transformation. But, maybe as a first step, it’s time to embrace a better way of storing, managing, protecting and extracting value from secondary data. You can review the report here to learn more about the biggest pitfalls associated with mass data fragmentation and the financial rewards organisations can reap if they can get in front of this critical IT challenge.

John Lucey, UK Country Manager, Cohesity
Image source: Shutterstock/Carlos Amarillo