When it comes to predicting key areas of focus for IT in 2013, most analysts agree on three areas: big data; the cloud; and mobility, says Gary Allemann, MD at Master Data Management. 
These trends are driven primarily by business’ desire to improve the customer experience, while continuing to improve operating effectiveness in the face of ever-tight IT budgets.
Each of these three areas has its own impact on IT, but they are all part of a bigger picture – the data management landscape – which is changing the technology environment and revolutionising business, something which we can expect to increase as the year progresses.
The cloud is a disruptive technology that is enabling business users to bypass archaic IT provided solutions and bring new, unsanctioned technologies into the organisation. Mobility has shifted the goal posts for infrastructure management – client server architectures based on the Wintel platform are giving way to mobile architectures dominated by Apple, Google and Samsung.
These trends have changed the IT landscape, but the major impact is that traditional large IT vendors cannot adapt quickly enough to solve the integration and data management challenges that these disruptions are bringing to the market. Start-up and specialist vendors are proliferating in the enterprise at a startling rate, solving problems the incumbents cannot.
According to Box CEO Aaron Levie, the emerging paradigm is the rise of the cloud stack. In the previous paradigm big vendors built their strategy around providing entire application suites.
A single provider strategy allowed enterprises the theoretical benefit of reduced integration complexity. The cost – a stack solution may do everything, but does nothing really well. Given the trends toward the cloud and mobility, as well as the emergence and expansion of big data, this approach is no longer good enough.
Focussed vendors on the other hand, offer the ideal solution to the needs of today’s business, each delivering their own specialist tool that works exceptionally well, and, importantly, integrates with other vendor solutions.
With cloud stack-based solutions, as an example, employee records from Workday can be seamlessly loaded in to Salesforce.com, cleansed and standardised in Trillium Software on Demand, or analysed using GoodData.
Cloud based solutions are driving a new level of openness, allowing better results to be driven from all applications. Unlike hard to implement, slow moving incumbent stacks, these solutions can be deployed quickly and cheaply, to support organisations of different sizes and to bolster weaknesses in existing enterprise architectures.
From a data quality perspective, there is a continuing drive to more effectively leverage existing systems to improve the customer experience.
The tight economy means that hundred million rand projects to rip and replace existing systems are simply not viable. Instead, organisations need to look at adding core components, such as a data quality stack, which will quickly and easily integrate into multiple existing systems. It is also important to leverage vendor expertise and apply prebuilt data quality rules in order to maximise return on investment (ROI).
Adding to the data challenge is the globalisation factor. For many companies, challenging market conditions are driving expansion into multiple geographies.
Africa is a key growth market for many South African enterprises, while other emerging markets such as Russia, India, Poland and South America are also seeing significant investment. This global expansion brings unique data quality challenges as each country and geography brings new languages, new business practises and new legislative barriers to data management.
In order to combat this and minimise the risk of falling foul of compliance regulations, it is often helpful to partner with a specialist, global, data quality company.
Such an organisation can share insight and knowledge of these conditions, using local resources where necessary, to ensure that data meets organisational needs as well as complies with multiple national legislations and regulations across global boundaries.
Data quality makes or breaks every data intensive initiative – whether a new ERP or CRM application, improving business process efficiency, or ensuring regulatory compliance.
The consolidation of the data management market has seen the mega vendors swallow up numerous specialist MDM, data integration and data quality vendors – in most cases losing the key passionate, data management specialists that made the technology work. A technology solution, deployed by an inexperienced team, is unlikely to bring value.
At the end of the day, bigger is not better. Better is better. To meet the challenges of the year ahead, organisations need to start looking at smarter solutions that offer real value, using suppliers and vendors that specialise in their own areas and work hand in hand with others.
In this way, technology investments can be optimised by ensuring that only the solutions necessary are implemented, and that each solution is best fit to the business need. The IT landscape continues to shift and change, but by being smart organisations can tackle these challenges head on and come out of the other side leaner, more efficient and more effective than before.