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Water Tanks, Wine Cellars, and Digital Transformation

According to a recent survey, most IT executives and personnel are not ready for digital transformation. I suspect that getting increased business value out of data, as opposed to managing the stuff that holds and processes the data, is a big part of this gap. This gap calls for change in skills and roles as well as technologies.

Conducted in October 2017, “Measuring IT’s Readiness for Digital Business” queried 450 IT executives and 750 IT personnel evenly distributed among Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Ireland, the UK, and the US.

“Companies need to change the way they manage their data and equip their IT departments if they want to achieve remarkable results from using data,” says Commvault. You can view an infographic of the survey results here.

The Commvault survey also revealed a significant gap in expectation between IT executives and IT workers when it came to innovation. While 41% of executives believed their IT department is prepared to innovate only 29% of IT workers believed they were prepared. Impediments to digital transformation also include:

  • 50 percent said that they must acquire new skill sets to stay relevant.
  • Two-thirds said that they are not prepared for the cloud or data management.
  • 40 percent said their company doesn’t have a formal plan for digital transformation.
  • 60 percent said they have access to less than half their organization’s data.

Commvault Needs You to Be a Data Expert

The Commvault survey tends to conflate data access and management with digital transformation and leading innovation. The bottom line, according to Commvault, is that, “To be a change agent for digital transformation, every IT worker must be a data expert.”

This isn’t really surprising given Commvault’s history as a backup company that for over a decade has been pushing data management. It doesn’t even use the term “backup” any more in branding and marketing. The core product suite is now called Commvault Data Management Platform.

In its most basic form backup is the creation of a secondary copy of primary data and storing that data somewhere else (different media, different location). There the secondary copy is kept safe in case anything ever happens to the primary copy.

To be more than just backup, Commvault has long strove to look at how the data might be used. For example, indexing of the backups was an early innovation added to boost capabilities like e-discovery and archiving. More recently, Commvault has been promoting cloud as more than just a place to keep the backups with various value adds – from cloud disaster recovery to cloud-based test and development labs.

If digital transformation is all about accessing and managing the data, then of course Commvault is going to tub thump for more data management skills in IT. Less data management in IT equals less revenue for Commvault in the future. A statistic that over half your potential market can’t even access all company data will be particularly troubling.

Turning Water Into Wine

There is more to digital transformation than just data (end-user devices and IoT for example) but I’ll concede that data, and how it is used to drive business value, is a big part of the picture. But here there is a big disconnect between how IT infrastructure has been traditionally managed and how it needs to be treated for digital transformation.

Storage technology, for example, has been a focus of mine for more than a decade. Traditionally in IT infrastructure storage is seen as buckets of undifferentiated bits (just rows of ones and zeros). Focus is on the cost of the buckets as opposed the value of the bits. Taking my backup technology example a little further. Backup was about copying bits from the primary bucket into a secondary bucket and keeping it safe.

But to derive business value from the data, as well as maximize the investment in storage, you need to be able to differentiate the bits in the bucket. We call this the water tanks and wine cellars problem. If data is like water, storage is like a water tank. The concerns for water tank operations are pretty straight forward. Is the tank big enough to hold current and future water volume? Is the tank safe and secure to keep the water until it is needed?

However, data has variable value to the organization and it needs to be differentiated. Some bits are more important than others. Info-Tech’s storage modernization project blueprint starts with the data – What is its value? What is it used for? What can it be used for? – before technologies are discussed.

A wine cellar is filled with wine just as a holding tank is filled with water. But in the case of the wine, some vintages are higher value than others and are stored (and accessed) accordingly. A strategy of ever bigger buckets of bits will fail. Data differentiation (through data governance) must be addressed.

Managing Buckets Is Easy. Managing Bits Is Hard.

Ah, but here’s the rub. This point that storage is about data management and governance as much as technologies has been made for years. But it isn’t always well received. Why? It’s hard, a lot harder than spec’ing out capacity for a new bit bucket (or water tank).

When IT starts talking about data value differentiation and, God forbid, governance, that invariably requires buy-in and input from the larger business. Many a well-meaning effort at governance just for the sake of storage and archival efficiency has been met with inertia and pushback.

Fear of the bits is likely part of why IT execs and workers told the Commvault survey that they were not ready for digital transformation. Forty percent of IT worker respondents said that more data and software training is needed and 60% of IT executives said that radical role changes in IT will be necessary to maintain relevance in the future.


  1. Don’t whine about the wine.
    Maintaining the bit buckets has its challenges but also has a straight-forward simplicity to it. The business just needs to know if the bucket is working and secure. Digital transformation will require greater engagement with the business and focus on getting the most value out of the data. This will not be easy, but it is necessary for continued relevance of the IT function.
  2. Infrastructure should focus on enabling technology.
    Technical infrastructure is the foundation, whether on premises or in the cloud. It does not lead innovation or transformation – that will happen in the software and use of data – but it does needs to be a frictionless runway. Look to what initiatives may be coming in the access and use of data when scoping requirements for new infrastructure technology and services. Here’s an example: Dell/EMC Isilon storage has the capability to host Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS). Is that important to your organization? To answer that question you need to be dialed into big data analytics projects.
  3. Map skills and roles to be updated and acquired for transformation.
    Big data analytics will naturally require increased emphasis on data analysis roles within IT. Enabling infrastructure will also be more cloud and as-a-service based. This will invariably have an impact on needed skills and roles. For an infrastructure take on this see the Info-Tech blueprint, Map Technical Skills for a Changing Infrastructure & Operations Organization. Also see: Redesign Your IT Organizational Structure.

Bottom Line

A recent survey by Commvault says that IT departments are not ready for digital transformation. This is due in part to not being ready to manage data and not able to access data. Data may not be all there is to digital transformation and IT innovation but there is no doubt it is a big part.

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