Size isn’t everything; it’s what you do that counts...
Comparison of size is nothing new and it’s well-known that ‘size isn’t everything…’ a phrase said by every man at some stage in life, often when talking about a multitude of things. One of the big IT trends for the next 3 years is Big Data. But for me it’s not about the size and ‘Small Data’ is more important to users today and in the short term having a greater impact on the way we consume IT.
Big Data isn’t a topic I focus on too deeply, but the vast scale of the challenge is immense, making it difficult to ignore. How will organisations store incomprehensible amounts of information, often data about you and me, driven from the context generated by use of smartphone in a given place at a given time, but also data used for numerous other situations, scientific research to name just one other data intensive activity. It’s not just about storage it is about access and manipulation of this mountain of data, just waiting to be identified as valuable…
In 2012 though, corporate IT is being driven faster by the other hot IT trend of the moment, consumerization. IT would do better to focus its attention less on size and more on the small data. Firstly what do I mean by small data? It certainly isn’t an official term, but in this example small data is the vast quantity of unstructured data and information stored by each and every one of us on a daily basis. The concept of IT prosumers (we are all producers and consumers of digital content), means we live in a world where data growth is greater than ever. In your personal life it might be photos, messages or favourites (quite possibly stored in a Big Data style database in the cloud), on the other hand it might be an important PowerPoint presentation you need to present to a customer in an hour’s time.
Secondly, why is it that important? It’s simple files and data, letters, photos, presentations. Nothing complicated, created on a PC, using an off the shelf piece of software. Wrong. It’s important because without proper controls this small data can get everywhere.
Think of the beach (you might be watching the Olympic sailing, on the beautiful Dorset coast), you can hold onto the pebbles, but the fine sand simply slips through your fingers and disappears with the thousands of other grains. If you aren’t carful your corporate documents and user created content can be dropped anywhere, with access granted to anyone without anything IT can do about it, lost in a beach of documents...
Scary right? Especially when you consider how much sensitive corporate data can be found in excel. It’s great to ask an audience of staff or colleagues how many of them use a cloud based sync tool like dropbox. The hands shoot up (usually the iPad owners) and then you ask who has business approval the arms almost universally come down, somewhat sheepishly. How big is your exposure to risk and how much small data has already escaped (here size does matter)… and it’s not about to get any better when you turn on BYO.
It doesn’t have to be scary though? Blocking every file sharing site at the firewall is not an answer. Users will find a way to get data out. Usually this isn’t driven by malicious intent (although it does happen), it is driven by necessity and desire to communicate and work more effectively. This is the reason services like dropbox, skydrive and iCloud have become so popular. It is because the functionality on offer is great compared with the file share, or ECM solution corporate IT provides. Simple apps that let you sync your data to any device, anytime, always keeping data in sync and allowing you to share files easily, inside and outside of you organizational boundaries. The icing on the cake is the ability to access data offline too, but with the assurances that if your device is stolen or fails you have a backup of what matters.
Don’t dismiss the cloud file sync’s value to users because of its simplicity. When selecting a corporate alternative to the free public services put functionality and user experience at the very top of your list. If you don’t users won’t use it. Data security absolutely matters, make sure your data management and security policy is clear and enforceable. What can users sync? What must stay in the corporate content management system? What level of data leak prevention solution is needed and what controls does IT need to retain (audit of file transfer to unauthorised machine or data wipe of stolen devices for example)? Think also about collaborative working and how the different ways of sharing and exchanging data (email, social networks, wiki’s, FTP, ECM…)interlink, focusing on the achievable level of integration and the corresponding user guidelines to ensure effective collaboration, without confusion.
Implementing Bring Your Own automatically forces you to think about the small data. It will force you to think about how users create store and share data on a daily basis and what is needed to balance functionality with security, when the device is no longer fully managed. Big data is a vital part of the next 3-5 years of IT services, but it is something you can control and plan to capitalise when the time is right.
Remember the grains of sand running through your fingers, as you sit with an ice cream watching the Olympic sailing events on Weymouth beach, this is the small data leaving your organisation right now. If you don’t give users a real alternative, this process will continue, data will keep appearing on public services and CIO’s will be missing out on a chance to add more security and in parallel give users a key feature that many crave for today.
( top picture: Sales on Silvers SEA by itsallgroovy1)