Kathy Gibson reports from Dell Technologies Forum SA – Technology has never been more central or more relevant for global progress – but organisations need to learn how to leverage new technologies and make the most of their data assets.

This is the word from Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies, who adds: “We have seen the power of technology in decoding the Covid virus, creating the vaccine, and then distributing is and tracking its long-term effects. And all of this has happened in a much shorter timeframe than could previously be imagined.”

But the impact of technology has been seen in all industries, Dell adds. “We have pivoted remote work, more play, remote everything.”

This means that technology has moved out of the data centre. “Seventy-five percent of enterprise data will be processed outside of the traditional data centre by 2025.

“This data will be processed at the edge, and being able to transform that data into actions and results will require realtime analytics and intelligence.”

Dell Technologies is innovating edge solutions by integrating with VMware and across its partner ecosystem to create the automated intelligent infrastructure for 5G and the edge era, Dell explains.

“I am excited about technology that is easier to operate and consume, and that is outcomes-orientated. We have more power now to fire up human progress that at any time in our lives, and the future is bright with promise and opportunity.”

Doug Woolley, MD: South Africa at Dell Technologies, adds that technology of organisations’ ability to tap into their data is core today.

Last year, the company’s Data Transformtion Index found that data overload and organisations’ ability to extract insights from their data was critical to them.

“People, technology and processes were already overwhelmed with data,” Woolley says. “And we know that the volume of data is not going to stop growing.

“So we asked our customers and partners how they would transform their businesses, and with Forrester uncovered what companies are doing and what insights matter.”

The study, “Unveiling Data Challenges Afflicting Businesses Around the World”, shows that for most businesses data has become their most valuable business asset, but they are overwhelmed by the sheer volume, velocity and variety of data.

The study identifies several data paradoxes hindering businesses today, including:

The Perception Paradox

Fifty-eight percent of South African respondents say their business is data-driven and state “data is the lifeblood of their organisation”. However, only 11% treat data as capital and prioritise its use across the business.

To provide some clarity, Forrester Consulting created an objective measure of businesses’ data readiness.

The results show that 89% of South African businesses are yet to progress their data technology and processes and/or their data culture and skills. Only 11% are defined as Data Champions: companies that are actively engaged in both areas (technology/process and culture/skills).

The ‘Want More Than They Can Handle’ Paradox

According to the research, 68% of South African businesses say they are gathering data faster than they can analyse and use it, yet 77% say they constantly need more data than their current capabilities provide. This could be because:

* 66% are guarding a significant amount of their data in data centres they own or manage, despite the known benefits of processing data at the edge – where the data is generated.

* An IT strategy that doesn’t scale: 41% are bolting on more data silos, rather than consolidating what they have.

Consequently, the explosion in data is making it challenging to meet business requirements, with 64% of respondents stating that their teams are already overwhelmed by the data they currently have.

“In a digital economy, data is one of the most valuable business assets, yet today it stands to be a significant barrier to growth,” says Woolley. “Navigating this modern-day paradox and turning vast amounts of data into actionable outcomes can seem daunting, especially when on a path to digital transformation.

“At Dell Technologies, we empower regional organisations to tackle these concerns by offering tailored end-to-end infrastructure solutions that not only support a data-driven work culture that is capable of predicting the future but is also equipped to harness data to achieve better business results, faster.”

The ‘Seeing Without Doing’ Paradox

While economies have suffered during the pandemic, the on-demand sector has expanded, igniting a new wave of data-first, data-anywhere businesses. However, the number of South African businesses that have moved the majority of their applications and infrastructure to an as-a-service model is still small (11%).

The report also states that an on-demand model would help the 83% of South African businesses that are currently struggling with some or all of the following barriers to better capture, analyse and act on data:

* High storage costs;

* A data warehouse that is not optimised;

* Outdated IT infrastructure; and

* Processes that are too manual to meet their needs.

Based on these paradoxes, Dell and Forrester devised a methodology to better understand organisations’ data readiness.

The data novices, comprising 54% of organisations polled, are overwhelmed by the amount and variety of data they have to deal with; and are looking to better use and optimise it, and upgrade their skills.

The data technicians, at 17%, are able to turn data into insights by using multi-cloud/aaS models and process data at the edge. But they still need to optimise for the right skills and culture mix.

The data enthusiasts, also 17% of respondents, are invested in data science skills and culture, and are data-savvy. But the need to optimise for the right infrastructure/aaS model to balance with already-present skills or culture.

The data champions, the smallest subset of respondents at 12%, are able to turn data into insights by using multi-cloud/aaS models and process data at the edge. In addition, they are also invested in data science skills and culture, and are data-savvy.

“These three paradoxes and four characteristics allow us to create insights for growth,” says Woolley.

Although businesses are struggling to adopt robust data management strategies, many have plans to create a better tomorrow: 70% of South African businesses intend to deploy machine learning to automate how they detect anomaly data, 525 are looking to move to a data-as-a-service model and 58% are planning to look deeper into the performance stack to rearchitect how they process and use data.

The study recommends three ways businesses can turn their data burden into a data advantage:

* Modernise their IT infrastructure, so it meets data where it lives, at the edge. This incorporates bringing businesses’ infrastructure and applications closer to where data needs to be captured, analysed and acted on – while avoiding data sprawl by maintaining a consistent multi-cloud operating model.

* Optimise data pipelines so data can flow freely and securely while being augmented by AI/ML.

* Develop software to deliver the personalised, integrated experiences customers crave.

Data management is central to an organisation and its growth, Woolley adds. Therefore, a solution should provide the global scale that businesses need as their application workloads and data volumes increase exponentially in the coming years.