The Politics of Corporate Data

Michael Vizard

Two of the thorniest issues in business today are where data resides and who owns it. There tend to be a lot of fiefdoms that think data related to a particular business unit is their exclusive domain. That leads to conflicting information that can hamper making the best decisions for the business as a whole.

And then there vendors with a vested interest in making it difficult to separate data from the application in which it was created. By making it difficult to separate the data from the application, they create disincentives for replacing their application. This allows them to, for instance, raise maintenance fees for software because they know that the cost of switching applications is fairly substantial. And the business is going to have the same basic problem, just with a different vendor.

In addition, some business-unit leaders keep data in certain applications under lock and key because theirs was the internal organization that funded deployment of those applications. And whoever controls the most relevant data is often king, no matter who holds the CEO or CFO title.

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But two trends at work should eventually conspire to free corporate data from the applications where it resides. The first is virtualization, which essentially is teaching everyone in the enterprise to share the same IT infrastructure. While application owners tend to resist virtualization, the economics of shared IT infrastructure are too compelling to ignore.

But once you start sharing servers, before long your organization is sharing virtual storage as well. And once that happens, companies soon discover how much simpler it is to share data across multiple applications that have access to the same storage. That simple idea, for example, is driving the development of the Virtual Storage Platform from Hitachi Data Systems. Regardless of the application or storage interface, the data is unified under a common storage architecture.

That has a lot of implications for applications. If the data can be accessed by any application, then the cost of switching applications drops dramatically. And the application owner's power is dramatically reduced because the core data is accessible to any application in the enterprise.

In effect, the drive to retire old IT infrastructure and create unified storage architectures is setting the stage for a profound change in the way we use applications and manage data. Beyond making data more accessible, this revolution also will have a profound impact on corporate politics. If everybody has access to the same data, then the only real king is the CEO and board of directors. And application vendors that try to hold companies hostage by controlling their data will be rendered powerless.

Miklos Sandorfi, chief strategy officer for file and content services at Hitachi, says it will take five years or more for all this to play out. But companies that start freeing their data from their original applications not only will be more competitive, but will be better places to work with substantially less infighting over control of corporate data.

Let's just hope this plays out faster than Sandorfi expects.

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