Cloud computing is one of the key catalysts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). It has single-handedly accelerated business efficiency through its ability to drive contingency, scalability, almost real-time data availability, and a reduction in on-site skills required to manage complex environments.
For Africa, the cloud provides the means for organizations across the continent to embrace automation and develop cloud strategies that will not only improve their efficiency and competitiveness but future-proof their growth prospects. However, some of the biggest challenges have been inferior, or a lack of, infrastructure such as hardware, global influence such as the shortage of semiconductor chips, coupled with a massive skills shortage in data sciences.
In a connected world, cloud computing provides a compelling answer to the infrastructure and skills barriers that have hampered business development. As with any revolution, there is a natural resistance to change. Cloud computing is expensive and many question the safety of their data. Yet, we trust cloud providers enough to handle our banking and personal data, so why do we resist moving our business data assets into the cloud?
The secret to successful cloud computing, which yields a faster return on investments, is two-fold.
Firstly, the use case for cloud needs to be expanded and often redefined. If, for example, cloud adoption was seen as merely a cloud-based database, the benefits would be limited to elements like improved hardware performance, automated redundancy, improved disaster recovery, and protection against hackers and ransomware.
Cloud adoption, when coupled to a data strategy, dramatically grows the value of the data assets, and delivers tremendous value to businesses. A data strategy, that aims to democratize data within all levels of the organization as well as outside, has shown the best return on investment.
Unpacking the data strategy
A data strategy is a business plan for data. Data strategies define the roles of people, process, and data with the aim of supporting business decisions and insights. More importantly, a data strategy should be aligned to the vision and mission statements of the business.
Data warehouses and data lakes are important considerations in leveraging the best value from data assets. Unfortunately, both have suffered from a negative perception due to the high number of failed implementations.
The primary driver behind these failures is either the lack of a data strategy or a data strategy that is too rigid, aligned to a particular technology or methodology, or is aimed at IT governance rather than business. It is vitally important that a data strategy is agnostic of technology and be representative of the company’s future growth and direction.
The second element of successful cloud computing is automation. Data warehouses and data lakes would typically take months to setup correctly and often would mean that the focus would be on one area of the business. This limits the return on investment. Of larger concern is the inherent skills shortage that plagues the data sciences. We simply cannot keep up with the changing demands and direction in a timeframe that brings value to business.
Automation tools allow us to onboard data from almost any source through a powerful replication tool. The replicate tool has a zero-footprint which mirrors the data in real-time from a source without overhead or impact on the system. It is technology-agnostic which removes the typical limitations of a single vendor technology. This speaks wonders for cloud as we can bring a variety of datasets into the cloud at a minimal cost. In the data sciences, change data capture represents the most crucial and difficult of the skillsets – understanding what changed.
This is handled through the replicate tool. Automation takes this a step further and builds this data into a data lake or data warehouse automatically, allowing for seamless integration and management of data into usable information assets. As automation removes human bias, these structures do not become obsolete.
Through automation, this information is digested into functional business-ready data marts and enriched through a data catalogue for the business user, data scientist, or data analyst to consume.
This is all done while allowing the data environment to be scalable, in line with the business needs, and agnostic of any technology, allowing for growth into the future.
Cloud computing, when coupled with a comprehensive data strategy and automation tools, eliminate the traditional barriers to entry, reduce costs, and multiply the return on investment. The result is an agile business that can respond with intuition to any macro, medium, or micro challenge or opportunity to become a truly global player.
By using the cloud and our data analysis tools, we can present real-time actionable insights to key decision-makers across the business to improve operations, drive efficiency, boost the bottom line. This is how one future-proofs an organization’s competitiveness and growth. African businesses would therefore do well to accelerate their cloud strategies.
By Udhveer Sookraj, Data Integration Specialist at Insight Consulting.