IT Data and Analytics don’t have to be ‘BIG’

By: Rich Ptak, Managing Partner, Ptak, Noel & Associates LLC

Previously, we discussed looking for opportunities to apply analytics to the data in your own backyard. The focus on ‘Big Data’ and sophisticated analytics tends to obscure and cause business and IT staff to overlook the in-house data already abundantly present and available for analysis. As the cost of data acquisition and storage has dropped along with the cost of computing, the amount of data available, as well as the opportunity and ability to extensively analyze it has exploded. The task is to discover and unlock the information that is hidden in all the available data.

Data is collected as part of every process, operation and action in the data center, and throughout the enterprise or organization. Here are five steps you can take to get more information from that storehouse of data.

1.  Understand

As we’ve pointed out before, the object of IT in an organization is to directly support the achievement of organizational goals and objectives. The organizational structure can be a for-profit business, a medical and health service provider, a non-profit charity, a government or military operation, etc.  Each is different in some way, but each has their own reason to exist with goals and objectives that it establishes to achieve those ends.

IT exists within that organization solely to contribute to the achievement of these goals. With all of the alternative delivery models that exist for IT services, it is more and more critical that IT understand, plan and executes its plans with that role and responsibility in mind.  Beyond the application of the technology, IT has to be focused on how it can creatively exploit organizational assets and resources to more effectively support the organization. Increasingly, that task is facilitated through creative use of data.

2.  Inventory

You need to know what data is available to work with and the capabilities for analysis. Both can change over time, adding dependencies as the environment grows and evolves. A data inventory will reveal what kinds of data and from what sources is being collected. Defining known dependencies and relationships, as well as the flow can provide insight into what and how the data can be used to yield more insight.  Find out if operational (machine status, scheduling, etc.), as well as functional (accounting, order cycles, pricing, etc.) data is being collected. This inventory should also include a survey of the available data, not just what is currently being analyzed. For this inventory, the focus is on identifying and categorizing all available data, not just what is being collected and analyzed. Unutilized or under-utilized data will be examined more closely in later steps.

Second, prepare an inventory of the available collection, computational and analytic capabilities. What tools for analysis and reporting are available? Are all capabilities of the SIEM suite being fully put to use? Are there functions, reports or analytic capabilities that are not being utilized or exploited to their fullest? Are there capabilities being offered by contracted outsourcing (SaaS or Cloud) services that can be used to provide more data or extend current analysis/reporting?

3.  Review

Review what data is being analyzed and how it is being used to yield the most amount of information possible. Consider how it could be used. With today’s level of complex, multiple dependencies and interaction, it is well worth the effort to explore and investigate for unsuspected interactions.  This is the result of the low cost of data collection, the minimal effort required to make it accessible, as well as the power for computation and analytics.

4.  Reach out

With some understanding and insight into what data is being used and how it is being applied, you can move to the next step to see what isn’t being exploited and determine its potential usefulness. The object is not simply to amass a large volume of data, but to identify how combinations of new data can be used to help IT contribute to the organization’s success.

The key here is to take a fresh look at how data can be used from one part of the organization to benefit or inform another. IT does not do this alone, nor should it; it requires cooperation and communication with non-IT business and functional staff to creatively apply technology. IT understands the power of technology, as well has how to focus that power and must proactively inform and engage with other, non-IT staff within the organization.

5.  Inform

The pace of change and expansion in the ability to leverage data continues at an accelerating pace. The variety of ways to manipulate data to get better information continues to grow and the costs decreases as vendors [1] seek to ease access to and expand the use of analytics. Research big data efforts underway in areas related to your own organization and industry to get other ideas for additional analysis.

[1] For example, Amazon Web Services data analysis – http://aws.amazon.com/