Today's entrepreneurs are increasingly concerned about creating an infrastructure that sufficiently supports their business operations. Data has become the lifeblood of companies and, as a result, organizations are racing to cope with instilling a data-driven culture.
However, being data-driven doesn't happen instantly. In my own work in cloud computing and web security (and speaking with talented entrepreneurs), I’ve come across several companies that either not aware or do not care enough to ask the right, tough questions with regard to transforming their culture.
Good IT is the building block of any successful operation, and at the core of a data-driven business is an infrastructure that is highly connected and secure. In this article, I explore some common challenges and opportunities companies should be mindful of when establishing a data-driven culture.
Data allows businesses to track performance and key performance indicators, whether those indicators are about sales figures, marketing campaign success, financial performance or even project progress. This, in turn, can fuel business intelligence to guide smarter decision-making. However, such efforts are only possible if the infrastructure is prepared to manage data.
The lack of a consolidated infrastructure creates silos where departments can withhold or delay information from others. Poor and misguided decisions are often made because of fragmented and even distorted information.
Connectivity and security prevent this from happening. Both have practical benefits, but in the context of data-driven organizations, a highly connected infrastructure allows data to be collected and consolidated, while security ensures that data integrity is maintained. If the business has access to the comprehensive information, it can make the right decisions based on the real state of the business.
At its basic function, connectivity allows for centralized administration and backups, equipment and document sharing, and access to business applications and automation tools. However, this becomes more of an issue for larger operations. Not only do speed and bandwidth requirements increase, but additional infrastructure investments also must be considered.
If the operations involve geographically distributed offices, then the concerns can multiply per branch and would require connectivity options, such as wide area networks (WANs), to facilitate, secure, and even speed up network-based communication and transactions.
The data services used to connect locations introduce their own costs and complexity. WANs are typically built from multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) services. Not only do these private data services form a significant percentage of IT budget, but they could take weeks to deploy. The cloud has been a welcome development in infrastructure where the functionalities of on-premises hardware and appliances, such as servers, firewalls, and backup systems, are now available as cloud-based services.
New approaches to WAN-like software-defined WAN or SD-WAN has emerged to be a viable option for interbranch connectivity. It's now widely offered by vendors like Cisco and Velocloud. SD-WAN allows the use of last-mile services such as broadband, fiber or 4G/LTE to connect to the company's WAN.
This helps businesses bring up branches quicker and more affordably than with MPLS. These cloud-based services avoid the complexity and costs introduced by appliances. Cloud-based services, such as Veritas for backup or Cato Networks for SD-WAN and security, minimize the need for network installation complexity and outright equipment purchases.
Having such an infrastructure allows businesses to properly manage the creation, flow and storage of data across the business functions.
When it comes to cybersecurity, there's no such thing as a company being too big or too small. If there's a downside to internet connectivity, it's exposure to cyberattacks. The shift to the cloud and a mobile workforce has only made protecting against data breaches more difficult. The amount and nature of data being collected and stored by organizations, such as customer information and payment details, make businesses prime targets for attacks.
The traditional appliance-based architecture organizations used for security are inappropriate for this reality. According to Ofir Agasi of Cato Networks, "There are three main challenges when relying on appliance-based network security: appliance sprawl, securing direct internet access or the performance and cost implications of backhauling internet-bound traffic across MPLS to a central site, and providing mobile and cloud access."
Security solutions – DDoS mitigation, authentication and firewalls – can now be availed of as cloud-based services. Interestingly, security services are now being bundled with networking services.
Aside from these solutions, companies should also look into staff training and education to support investments in security at the infrastructure level. Over 90 percent of cyberattacks are caused by employees who leak credentials to hackers through social engineering methods such as phishing. Properly training staff on good enterprise security practices should help curb cyberattack risks. Part of a data-driven culture is creating data stewards out of everyone.
Balancing costs and benefits
A connected, secure and well-managed infrastructure sets a company up for success. It enables workers to be more productive, prevents downtime and allows companies to leverage data to drive the business. A data-driven culture promotes better transparency and accountability. Information-sharing also helps prevent silos where departments keep information from each other. This way, organizations can better strive toward a common goal.
However, with all of the equipment and components available that a company could introduce to its infrastructure, complex approaches can become costly and inefficient. Thus, it is important to ensure that while the infrastructure is both highly connected and secure, the IT resources employed fit the use cases. The emergence of cloud-based services helps manage costs and scale. This way, organizations are equipped to meet the challenges of demands of day-to-day operations but also do it in a manner that is sustainable.