Everything changes so fast, knowing how to adapt is no longer an option but a necessity.
Companies now operate in a market that not only moves at an impressive speed, but also changes shape with the same speed. These changes are due to so many factors that the idea of controlling them is wishful thinking.
A company must therefore be “liquid.” That is, it must adapt to the market as a liquid adapts to its container, no matter the shape or the speed with which it is poured.
However, knowing how to adapt, and to do so at the right speed, requires that companies need not only to be liquid, but also not very viscous. Companies that are both liquid and not viscous are multi-form, meaning that they are able to not only support change but also to drive that change.
However, becoming liquid and not very viscous is a transformation as important as it is difficult to achieve successfully. This is especially true for companies with such highly established organizational structures and cultures that it is very difficult to for them to make the slightest change.
Not wanting to investigate here the best approach for such overall transformations, a subject covered by others and in great depth, I would like to focus on a single aspect of the transformation, which is noticing the needed change, or anticipating it, if possible, so that the company, being liquid, can fill the new required shape before competitors do.
To be capable of doing so, companies need to observe what happens through a wise use of data, which in a digital world are the eyes of the company. This means that data must be easily accessible and usable, to ensure that observations are timely. It is even better if the data is received in advance of the actual change, since anticipating future change is better than detecting that a change would have been prudent in the past.
Data then becomes one of the founding elements of being liquid and not viscous; companies become so through a data infrastructure that offers the same liquid characteristics. It should not be an infrastructure with maximum viscosity. On the contrary, it should demonstrate a sort of reverse Venturi effect, where the speed with which the data can be used also reduces the pressure of such use on the infrastructure.
This is how I like to talk about data virtualization. I like to present data virtualization as a plumbing network with pipes that are made of materials with maximum smoothness, and their diameter is such that they do not create accumulation points, or, worse still, overflow. Also, it is a network whose connections are never sudden, which would impede the flow, but gradual.
This overall fluidity enables the data to arrive where it is needed, so that those who need to use it can do so without being an expert in fluid dynamics but simply by opening the right taps, without worrying about how these are connected to the sources through the water network.
Whatever data is needed for any purpose, no matter the type, structure, or syntax of the data, or how close or near it is to the source, all that will be needed is just to turn on the tap and the data will flow, strongly and intensely, ready to be used.
To continue with the water metaphor, this data infrastructure will have to be able to:
- Reach the spring source wherever it may be, in the depths of a well or at the top of a mountain, without having to design the best way every time, from scratch, but trusting in the availability of a large collection of pipes and fittings, which can be assembled in the right way;
- Guarantee a powerful yet controllable flow, so that glass or pool can be filled with equal ease;
- Allow different liquids to be distributed according to the same pattern of use, taking care of the technical needs deriving from their different characteristics and not, on the contrary, putting the burden on those who use these liquids;
- Allow the combination of different liquids, both to satisfy extemporaneous needs, and to create stable compounds, whose use is revealed, in the long term, functional to what different individuals want to accomplish;
- Make the liquids available to as many types of users as possible, whether these be people who make occasional, non-continuous use of them, or applications that, on the contrary, need them continuously;
- Always keep the entire network under control, knowing at any moment who is doing what with each available liquid.
The Always-On Data Infrastructure
Although it is not a simple task to transform into a liquid, non-viscous company, since it requires having to act on three different dimensions – organizational, cultural, and technological – it is true that the role played by data is of primary importance, since this is the fulcrum on which these three dimensions rest. Ultimately, companies will do best by leveraging a data infrastructure that is as liquid and non-viscous as the company desires to be.