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Using real-time data is not a technology challenge, it’s a cultural one

SPONSORED – The Home Depot is using artificial intelligence to monitor weather activity and inventory, enabling the retailer to proactively move items like chainsaws or generators to where they’ll be needed most. 

Others are using real-time data to personalize product recommendations, optimise supply chains, or fight fraud. 

Some of this innovation,  says DataStax’s Bryan Kirschner, is down to advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), but a lot of these improvements are just “doing lots of math really fast on lots of data.”

Critically, he notes, that doesn’t require some tortuously complex engineering or ripping out old applications. 

“The tech has arrived to make that available to everybody,” he says. 

New evidence shows that real-time data use leads to increased revenue growth and improved developer productivity.

It also emphasises that real-time data is valued across multiple teams, not just data specialists, for its ability to deliver clear results spanning revenue growth and even talent retention.

“Real-time data means better digital experiences, which makes customers happy; it enables developers to be more productive, which makes development teams and CTOs happy; and it drives revenues, which makes boards and investors happy, especially in today’s economic climate,” says Bryan Kirschner.

He was speaking with The Stack as DataStax published its latest State of the Data Race report, based on 500+ interviews with CIOs, CTOs, cloud, engineering and ops directors. Kirschner noted that “all the best-of-breed tools for doing real time decision making and personalization are available as a service and open source”.

This makes it easier for organizations to adopt new approaches around data.  Yet as the report finds, most enterprises are barely scratching the surface when it comes to harnessing the power of real-time data: the largest concentration of all organizations surveyed say they currently focus solely on internal uses, with the top example being monitoring and reporting on internal IT systems. What’s the hurdle to broader deployment?

Culture eats technology for breakfast… 

DataStax helps customers building modern real-time applications including Audi, CapitalOne, Disney and Starbucks and as Kirschner, VP Strategy at the rapidly growing company notes, the State of the Data Race report shows that “moving to this model of rewiring customer experiences and business processes for real time is light years away  from the traditional IT project. The centre of gravity has moved to the line of business.”

“[Innovation is coming from] the people who actually own the experience or manage the process working with cross-functional teams; maybe they’re solid line, maybe they’re dotted line, but both CIOs and CTOs are really looking to assign people to lines of business. Real-time is a tool in your enterprise toolbox, not an IT project. 

“What we’re seeing is that for CIOs, figuring out what to do with data is no longer their problem. Their contribution is hiring people who can work in cross-functional teams looking at getting real-time data use-cases started, to do two symbiotic things: improve customer experience and drive business revenue” he adds.

Real-time data applications can help enterprises squeeze cost and risk out of inventory and supply chain management; gain uplift from shopping cart composition or B2B sales operations; and improve overall business processes or customer experiences in the moment. As Kirschner puts it: “Great personalization and recommendations can lead to consumers both spending more money, and a higher NPS. 

“So as a consumer, you’re spending more, but you’re actually happy about it.”

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That’s borne out in hard numbers. 

As the report finds, enterprises with an organization-wide strategy on real-time data are more likely to:

  • Have clear product owners (43%, versus 32% of businesses overall)
  • Have business unit accountability of data (42% versus 30%)
  • Have line-of-business staff, developers, and data scientists in cross- functional teams (45% versus 32%)

This approach lines up every role behind one goal: shipping an application that uses real-time data. 

As the report drives home: “Until an application ships, all the good ideas in the world won’t impact the customer experience—or the bottom line. Organizations that make a strategic commitment to creating value with real-time data are making the changes that focus attention, align incentives, and drive prioritization around the ground truth that everyone will sink or swim together based on developers’ productivity.”

Speaking of developer productivity and indeed happiness, one intriguing takeaway from the DataStax State of the Data Race report reflects the extent to which development teams want to work around these real-time data applications. They  overwhelmingly rated interacting with real-time data and AI/ML and building in-the-moment applications that can respond intelligently as key areas of interest.

Some of the DataStax team at the recent Gartner symposium.

With developers being key enablers to successful deployment of real-time data projects, employers should pay close attention. Some 86% of developers at organizations with a strategic focus on real-time data say that “technology is more exciting than ever” for example; that’s 24 points higher than organizations with no real-time deployments.

As Kirschner tells The Stack: “There’s tremendous developer enthusiasm for real-time! CIOs want to pay attention to that. Developers see an opportunity to be creative, be a hero, to impact customers. It’s exciting and career relevant. Business leaders need to understand that this has to happen in a connected way.” 

These services also have to work in the real world. Kirschner provides a hard example of the need for integrated thinking: “As the former CIO of Starbucks has put it, it’s all well and good to be able to recommend a drink to somebody; but when the system is doing that, you better make sure that the store has the ingredients. You’ve got to get that real-time drive across your supply chain into the customer interaction as well.”

Business leaders, in short, increasingly don’t want “insight” from their data.

They want action based on data coming in and they want those actions as fast as possible. 

For developers meanwhile, access to real-time data and the ability to innovate with it is a major attraction, ranking up there with the desire for flexible work. For those starting their real-time data journey this makes for an unusually tidy synergy between strategic business demands and developer aspirations. 

In a world of increased competition and where every margin point matters, real-time data use can help your organisation win customers’ hearts and minds – and deployment can be much simpler than you think. 

Find out how DataStax can support your real-time data journey

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Ed Targett

Ed Targett is the founder of The Stack. He previously served as editor of Tech Monitor, Computer Business Review, and Roubini Global Economics. He has 15 years of experience in newsrooms and consultancies and an unrivalled network. His interests span technology, foreign policy, and sustainability. You can reach him on [email protected]

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