Gary de Menezes, Country General Manager, Sub-Saharan Africa, Micro Focus.

Gary de Menezes, Country General Manager, Sub-Saharan Africa, Micro Focus.

Over the past five to six years, ‘big data' has become a buzzword. But is big data all that it was cut out to be? On its own, no, says Gary De Menezes, Country General Manager for sub-Saharan Africa at Micro Focus.

Today, all vendors have developed big data solutions. It came out of a need to have some mechanism to store the vast amounts of unstructured data being generated. And that's really what big data is, a massive amount of unstructured data collected out of a desire by business to be able to profile the wants and needs of its customers.

De Menezes says: "Five years down the line, we've successfully created systems to store copious amounts of data that that we don't know what to do with. Business is essentially hoarding data, spending money on collecting and storing data that it probably has no need or use for. We need to move into an era of controlled big data collection, where we only collect and keep what's necessary. And in order to do that, you need to structure the data and understand which data is relevant to your business."

Data needs to be organised in a predefined manner so the business can see how it all relates to one another and the business. Gareth de Laporte, Channel Manager for South Africa at Micro Focus, says: "This is where the digitisation of business processes and enterprise content management (ECM) complement big data by making sense of it and enabling the business to harvest value from its data. While there are still businesses out there that are doing things manually, if they want to adopt ECM, they'll have to digitise their business processes. Implementing ECM can help a business on its digitisation journey by digitising and capturing all of the data across the business into a central repository."

However, it's not as simple as it sounds. Over the past three years, there's been growing focus on security around the collection and storage of data, complicated by the new privacy laws with which companies are compelled to comply. By the end of the year, the Protection of Personal Information Act is expected to come into force; over and above that, there's the General Data Protection Regulation, which impacts any business that deals with the data of European nationals.

De Laporte adds: "From a governance point of view, you have to be able to manage that information across its life cycle, from the creation of the data until the time that you are no longer required to keep it. Content management (or ECM) as a philosophy is becoming the golden key to unlocking the full value of big data and managing it. It's all about what you keep, where you store it, how you access it, and the rules that govern all of these, and more, factors."

Capabilities enabled by enterprise content management include data versioning and preservation, information life cycle management, data privacy, the shift towards paperless and the digitisation of business processes.

De Laporte illustrates his earlier point using the example of the South African justice system. "The media regularly report instances where case files and dockets go missing, which reflects badly on our judicial system and its ability to uphold the law. This is a clear example of where great benefit would be obtained if the data were to be digitised and the content managed to ensure it's stored in the correct manner, hasn't been tampered with and has only been accessed by authorised individuals."

De Menezes adds: "As the focus shifts from big data purely for big data's sake and towards the management of content, we also need to provide context to that data and how it relates back to the various divisions within the business. So, in addition to ECM, you require analytics to classify the data based on what is important to the organisation and to store it accordingly."

On top of those capabilities, it's vital to be able to search across the data for all of the available information that's relevant to a particular incident or subject matter. De Menezes explains: "ECM isn't a novel concept, it's been around since the 1990s, but bringing analytics and elastic searchability across different silos and types of data, including voice, video and image, now that's disruptive."

Possibly one of the biggest challenges around big data is that businesses don't want to keep everything forever. They need to be able to destroy data that's no longer required and have an audit trail that shows how long you stored it for, who accessed it and who disposed of it. Some data may only be stored for a prescribed period of time, while some data may simply not be needed any more by one department, while another may want to keep it.

The bottom line is that information is an enterprise-wide imperative; people across the organisation need to be able to access it. However, you can't just open up all data to all people. The only way to manage this level of complexity is through enterprise content management and digitisation," concludes De Laporte.