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Becoming a Data Company: A Tale of Two Trends

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The theme of the last decade was “every company is a software company.” In the coming decade, it will be time for our data practices to catch up with the ongoing revolution in software development practices–or in other words–for “every company to become a data company.”

Data is back, baby! Well, that seems like an odd statement. It never quite left. Nevertheless, Google’s recent acquisition of Looker and Salesforce’s acquisition of Tableau seems to highlight this mindset in magnified ways. With eyes set on new leaps in data science and artificial intelligence, it’s easy to understand how our views on data now feel like a shifting pendulum.

The theme of the last decade was “every company is a software company,” driven by ready compute availability from cloud platforms. In the coming decade, it will be time for our data practices to catch up with the ongoing revolution in software development practices–or in other words–for “every company to become a data company.”

Over the past few months, as I have conferred with customers, attended conferences and connected with colleagues, there’s a perception of growing vigor in data conversations. Developing a data competency is rapidly growing in importance to business now, just as establishing a software competency became a priority 10 years ago.

However, my most curious observation has been the discussions around data and software are insular. Conversations either focus on how to move, manage, cleanse and leverage data for analytics, or how to build and release high-quality software quickly. The people who hold these conversations are either data people or software people who live in isolated worlds, seem to have divergent concerns and connect only at the lowest common denominator–the database storage–when the software guy or gal needs to store the data somewhere. There is little talk of the deeper connection and synergy between the two worlds and how it relates to larger trends.

The Next Wave of Digital Transformation

If you zoom out a bit, there’s more than meets the eye. There is an elegant symmetry between the software and data worlds, and it alludes to how the modern enterprise will morph in the age of digital transformation. Just as functions and organizations were reshaped to support new cultural and technology trends such as DevOps, organizations shall be reshaped in a data-first world, too. As software competency grows and matures, the need to acquire data competency becomes more urgent. What seem like separate trends are a maturing continuation of the uber trend of digital transformation, an attempt to acquire competencies in software and data (and necessarily so in that order).

As the diagram below shows, enterprises have been pursuing a journey of developing a software competency and becoming software companies. Those that make sufficient progress in software competency quickly realize that the significantly increased data they now have acquired requires new competencies to harvest and extract value from it. A data competency becomes necessary to completing digital transformation and so begins the journey to becoming a data company. Software and data are two sides of the same coin of digital transformation with the echoing resonance of reassuringly familiar themes. The diagram below highlights some of these.

devops.com DX

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Speed and safety are central drivers in both competencies. The DevOps movement was driven by these two (often at odds) requirements to deliver software quickly from development to production without breaking the production deployment by ensuring that what is traditionally known as “non-production” accurately mimicked production. The goal is to build and test code so when it is deployed to production it doesn’t break what is already working.

In the data context, as more organizations understand the value of their data, they realize the importance of speed to get data quickly from where it is produced (production) to those that need it (outside of production, i.e. non-production). Safety in the data context is not just about not disrupting production while extracting that data, but also about meeting regulations and remaining compliant with data privacy policies in the process.

devops.com code

The elegant symmetry here is further accentuated by the fact that while the primary concern in the software context has been around getting software from internal development environments to customer-facing production environments, in the data context, the concern is getting data from customer-facing production environments to internal  non-production environments. This completes the virtuous cycle of experimentation and learning that modern enterprises must master (see below) in their journey of digital transformation. It requires that organizations rapidly iterate to product-market fit through trial (software release) and learning (data science, analytics, machine learning) and back again.

devops software data competency

In this way, digital transformation becomes a virtuous cycle driven by the complementary movements of DevOps and DataOps–the cultural movements, philosophies, technologies and collaborations that underpin the software and data journeys respectively, and the primary drivers of organizational metamorphosis that enterprises are undergoing during the digital transformation journey.

See the original article on DevOps.com.

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