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One of the potential benefits of cloud computing to access business applications and data is its potential to improve the situational awareness of executives and managers. By this I mean their understanding of what’s going on outside their company in addition to what’s happening within it. Today people have access to a trove of information about their own company, which is the result of decades of investment in an expanding range of enterprise transaction systems (ERP, CRM and supply chain management, for example) and convenient data stores that make accessing data easier than ever. But although people have access to internal information, most have big gaps in their knowledge about what’s going on in the outside world. Take, for example, market trends, information about a competitor’s, supplier’s or customer’s financials or industry-specific demand forecasts. Our benchmark research shows that while two-thirds of companies are satisfied with their ability to integrate information from standard internal sources, only 39 percent feel that way about reference or competitive data from external sources and 36 percent about text data from social media.
Cloud-based deployment of applications has the potential to address this intelligence deficit, but only if users demand it. In some respects, the dearth of external information today is a legacy of limits imposed long-ago by computing infrastructure. Obtaining information about the world outside the four walls of an organization used to be difficult, time-consuming and not always trustworthy. Some people may have had subscriptions to magazines or industry newsletters. Yet unless these publications were nearby and you knew it, accessing their information was difficult. Today, however, almost all such information is available on the Web, often for free. If, say, you need to track production of closed die forging, press and upset forging by country in Europe, you simply look here. The Web has made it easier to receive and use information. Not too long ago, updating third-party data stores involved getting delivery of physical media (such as optical or magnetic storage discs). However, the bad old days linger on in attitudes. Most business people are not in the habit of thinking about integrating external data into enterprise systems, which I assert is one reason why only about one-third of companies have satisfactory access.
Human nature is another reason why external information is not as available as internal. Organizations tend to look inward. Too often, performance is assessed only on an us-vs.-us basis, as in comparing actual results to a budget or to the same period a year ago. But business is a competitive game, not solitaire. In the past, it might have been difficult to use external benchmarks to measure an organization’s own performance, but in today’s environment it’s not. And there’s no good excuse for persisting in bad habits that prevent companies from using more information about the outside world. Organizational habits can be altered, but doing so usually requires a change of tone at the top. CEOs and senior executives stand to gain the most from better situational awareness, but I worry that few of them understand that a lack of readily available external information is undermining their company’s ability to compete.
Speaking of bad habits, the integration of new technology into business operations has long been unsteady and inconsistent. It took about half a century after the invention of the fractional horsepower electric motor for the redesign of factories to take advantage of the greater flexibility of that technology over steam engines. By comparison, adoption of the Internet by business has been stunningly swift in some respects but not others. When it comes to the cloud, the extent of adoption differs considerably. Businesses that thrive on novelty – and the parts of the business that are most engaged in novelty (such as marketing, sales and product design) – have been the earliest to incorporate cloud technology into their processes and systems. Industrial companies and departments such as finance and operations have been slower to bring new information sources into their management processes. All companies can benefit from increasing their understanding of what’s going on outside their four walls. The cloud is there to help – but only if companies and their executives want that help.
Robert Kugel – SVP Research
Informatica and Exterro have announced a partnership in the market for discovery of electronic data and documents (known as e-discovery). Exterro has made its reputation in e-discovery workflow and legal holds management while Informatica is a leader in data integration that our Value Index finds as the top and Hot rated provider. The partnership is designed to provide users of Exterro’s Fusion E-Discovery software with a single point of control for organizing and managing legal and preservation holds (that is, preventing electronic data from alteration or deletion) of unstructured and structured data that are held in Informatica’s Data Archive. Informatica specializes in the efficient management of information assets, which our benchmark research shows is not easy for most organizations to do because they have data spread across multiple applications and systems: Two-thirds of organizations said that this makes it difficult to manage information. By consolidating in a single repository the storage of information that is likely to be the subject of discovery, companies can simplify and cut the cost of the search process as well as reduce risk. Orchestrating legal and preservation holds can be complex since multiple people or groups within a company may be legally involved with the same data over an extended period of time. Moreover, it’s important to ensure that once the holds are no longer needed, all data that can be eliminated is eliminated.
This situation brings to light an increasingly sensitive predicament for many businesses. Corporations are required by law to retain records for a given period. These times differ from one jurisdiction to the next and vary according to the type of information in the records. For example, retention periods for general business matters tends to be the shortest, while information related to pharmaceuticals and radioactive materials require long retention. Traceability – the ability to determine and verify the history, use or location of an item and its constituent parts across an entire supply chain – is a fixture in some in some businesses such as those providing critical materials used in aerospace parts and to an increasing extent food. Failure to preserve data or to be able to produce it a timely fashion can lead to heavy fines or expensive judgments. The flip side to retention is that corporations must take care to delete records that no longer have business value and are not required to be retained, since even innocent items can pose a needless threat in litigation and add to the cost of maintaining and finding information.
Once mainly an issue in the United States, the increasing volume of litigation worldwide and ever expanding regulation of businesses has expanded the breadth and amount of information that parties may have to produce in the discovery phase of litigation and regulatory actions. Along with this trend, e-discovery has grown exponentially in importance as more and more of everyday business is captured in electronic systems. Hence the need for software to manage the e-discovery process and the underlying data.
A great deal of the information needed for e-discovery is unstructured – documents and email are particularly common. But especially in financial services, information contained in structured databases also is important. Banks, brokers/dealers and insurance companies all generate a considerable amount of structured data related to operations that can be subject to discovery. The volumes of data that are exposed to discovery continue to grow in lockstep with the growth of data created by today’s IT systems.
Law and regulation by the book prescribe processes that must be managed and documented carefully. Workflows handle processes affect the efficiency with which discovery management is executed. Legal holds require tagging of documents that have to be available in the discovery process to ensure that they are not inadvertently removed or deleted from a repository. For example, if a set of transactions and related email messages are germane to a regulatory action, they must be preserved until the issue is resolved, regardless of whether under ordinary circumstances they would be destroyed because their legally defined retention period had expired.
Exterro’s Fusion E-Discovery Suite incorporates the necessary capabilities as well as data mapping and data management to make processing records efficient. Exterro competes with IBM and Hewlett Packard/Autonomy, among others, in the e-discovery market. It positions itself as providing a more open portal than the others, enabling customers to have greater freedom to decide where the data is held. The company will benefit from the new partnership by having tight integration with a key information storage provider. Informatica for its part has acquired another important use case that provides durable value to its existing and prospective customers.
Companies – especially their legal departments – often fail to recognize the negative impact that poor data management has on their ability to execute consistently and efficiently. Usually, they recognize they have a problem only after an expensive or embarrassing failure. It’s important that organizations regularly review their data assets and data management practices to determine where they can be a source of failure or inefficiency and address these issues immediately. They should consider how Exterro and Informatica can help them reduce a potentially dangerous risk exposure that our research confirms that over half (51%) of organizations indicate as their top ranked concern in governance, risk and compliance.
Robert Kugel – SVP Research