In today’s business climate, companies need to exploit whatever data enters the enterprise, in whatever format and from whatever source. This is the only way to gain a comprehensive view of the business and its customers. “Every company is a data company,” as the adage goes, and if you're not using all the available data, you're probably making incorrect decisions.
The challenge is that many companies operating one mainframe or more may not realize how much valuable data they’re sitting on—or how to access and use it effectively.
While migrating mainframe data is a reasonable choice in some scenarios, often a better and more affordable solution is to unify data across disparate platforms, programming languages and data formats. Integrating vital business information with other platforms and processes this way is what we call data unification.
Why is Data Unification Important?
According to an IDC study, spending on big data technologies and services will grow by 30 percent in 2014, surpassing $14 billion as demand for big data analytics skills continues to outstrip supply. Here the race will be on to develop "data-optimized cloud platforms," capable of leveraging high volumes of data and/or real-time data streams. Value-added content providers and data brokers will proliferate as enterprises (and developers) look for interesting data sources, as well as applications that help them to understand their customers, products and the markets in which they exist.
To deliver the systems and information to support this big data explosion, organizations must be able to access and integrate information from multiple data sources, including the traditionally hard-to-integrate mainframe data.
Business Drivers for Data Unification
What factors are driving organizations to seek new and innovative ways to access and integrate information from multiple data sources? The primary drivers include:
Keys to Successful Data Unification
- Real Time Decision Analytics—With access to more complete, up-to-date integrated data, companies can become more nimble and make faster, more informed business decisions to improve operational efficiency and customer service.
- Simplified Data Access—As companies grow—organically and through mergers and acquisitions—operations can become siloed because the data systems are disparately located and lack common structure and format. Effective data unification opens operational borders, enabling ubiquitous access to business-critical information through a common interface, and reducing the need for unique skill sets for each data source.
- Legacy Modernization—Technology continues to push the speed of business, especially as it relates to IT. For many firms, new mobile, Internet and business intelligence requirements are overloading IT professionals, while at the same time they are trying to manage and maintain mission-critical, legacy data and mainframe systems. Data unification resolves that challenge. Done right, unified data can extend the life and ROI of existing legacy resources, while allowing data to flow to and from the disparate sources of data in real time.
- Cost Reduction—Faced with growing consumer demand and competitive pressure, companies are pushing to get IT projects completed quickly and at the lowest possible cost. With a sound business strategy and an effective data unification solution, they can actually reduce data storage and warehouse costs, cope with decreasing mainframe programming skills and gain a common tool for reusing multiple source data sets.
As with any IT implementation, there are several important steps involved in undertaking a data unification initiative. The following is a brief road map:
Reaping the Benefits of Data Unification
- Assess your business objectives. Conduct a complete inventory of the programs and data elements.
- Plan to implement a unified Interface and lightweight installation. Pick technologies that can be easily configured, implemented and managed. To reduce cost and complexity, pick a solution that can be installed quickly and with minimal IT staff involvement.
- Conduct comprehensive data mapping. Use tools that are simple to use but powerful enough to get the job done. Mapping the data accurately is essential to keeping the project on track with the end goals in mind. The data-mapping function is typically performed by someone with extensive knowledge of the data, such as a DBA or an application developer.
- Complete data integration and seamless transfer. Ensure the ability to access the necessary data, and be ready to transfer large amounts of data from one place to another.
- Ensure strong project management and troubleshooting. Provide options for systems administrators and data administrators to manage and fix errors.
- Future-proof and leverage technology. Reuse, repurpose and grow the data unification needs across the enterprise as business needs and objectives change.
Data unification gives an enterprise the ability to take applications and extend them by including up-to-the-minute mainframe data, as well as data from other sources. But the benefits don’t stop there. Having the mainframe be a provider as well as a consumer of data makes your investment in the mainframe more valuable.
In addition, creating and maintaining a stable, consistent development environment makes it possible to maximize IT talent and resources. This helps ensure that future projects will be completed on time and within budget.
Unlike data replication, which runs the risk of having out-of-sync data, a unified data architecture means information is accessed in its native form. When the legacy data never moves off the mainframe, there is no need to initiate a huge conversion effort, code writing and all of the associated challenges.
Finally, having multiple ways to access the data and deploy the finished application means much more flexibility in the way future applications are developed and deployed.
Data unification is a powerful capability that involves your most important assets. With the right tools and technology partner, the process is quicker and easier than you might think.
Dusty Rivers is principal technical architect and Don Spoerke is senior solutions architect for GT Software.