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September 13, 2017

NetApp: Changing the World with Data

Whatever the future brings, data company NetApp can help any organisation make the best use of its information to provide clear insights to survive in a fast changing world.

By CBR Staff Writer

Digital transformation is increasing pressure on IT departments to deliver ever faster change for their business or organisation.

Industry incumbents are being challenged by up-start challengers offering new services and business models in every area of the economy. Competition is moving ever more quickly in a world where constant disruption as the new normal.

Whether it is companies like Uber changing the way we order and pay for taxis or traditional retailers embracing a multi-channel approach to serving customers via shops, websites and mobile applications technology is radically changing how we find, use and pay for services.

That radical change is driven by data and the better, and quicker, ways these new companies are taking advantage of it. The multi-channel retailer can collect instant responses to new product lines and marketing strategies and use that data to inform future decisions about stock levels and wider business strategy.

The most famous example from the High Street is Zara which is built from the ground up on data and has used this to become one of the world’s largest, and fastest growing, fashion giants. It is part of a group selling one billion pieces of clothing a year and it hardly advertises.

Instead it collects data from the shop floor on what is selling, what is being returned and what customers are saying about individual products. Some of this is structured data from transactions but it also comes from conversations with floor staff on what customers are looking at and what they are saying about the clothes.

This data is used to decide on what items to restock – a process which happens not once a month but twice a week – more like a supermarket than a normal clothes retailer. Shop managers around the world talk to headquarters on a daily basis to provide a clearer picture of what is happening in the stores.

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The company also uses data to inform and improve the rest of its supply chain which can push a brand new product from the designer’s desk to the shop floor in less than three weeks.

It uses complex inventory optimisation modelling to ensure that individual stores get just the stock they can sell and no more. The company sells far fewer items at discount than any of its High Street rivals.

This is partly because the speed with which it operates is now understood by its customers – if they see an item they like in a store there is more pressure to buy it there and then – the chances are it won’t be available next week.

This digital transformation is changing every part of the economy from manufacturing to agriculture. The transformation is allowing the collection of data from ever more sources while more sophisticated machine learning and artificial intelligence means business can find actionable insights from complex and chaotic datasets once seen as unusable.

Storage or rather the data it contains is central to this revolution. Where once storage was the forgotten part of IT infrastructure ruled by cost rather than any strategic or business focus now it is central to the future of the business. Storage was sold on the basis of cost and reliability to keep regulators happy.

But storage today is key driver of business competitiveness – data is central to the success of every organisation today. NetApp’s recent focus on data as the lifeblood of the organisation recognises the opportunity that digital transformation presents while the new ‘All-Flash’ product line reflects the shift from storage to data and outcomes.

Digital transformation is all about data. In order to compete business needs to build infrastructure which gives instant access to the data it already holds. Better analysis of customer trends, of manufacturing and other business processes are radically changing how every business functions.

At the centre of this is data and the infrastructure needed to store, process and analyse it to give actionable insight to the business.

Beyond existing data sources, which are often under-utilised, organisations are also facing a tidal wave of new data sources. IoT projects create vast quantities of information to be stored, analysed and acted upon.

More intelligent analysis is also opening up sources of data previously considered too dirty or chaotic to provide useful insight. This might include website use data or snapshots of social media reaction to advertising campaigns, given the right systems it can all provide actionable insight to business trends and performance.

This digital transformation has already changed industries from media to retail. But an example from healthcare can show its impact on an area which has traditionally relied on human expertise and skills instead of technology. Health provider Mercy Technology Services (MTS) used Flash to help change the data overload from a challenge to the business into a way to improve patient services and treatment. MTS provides services and electronic health records to 3,500 doctors and 65,000 healthcare professionals across the United States.

The move to NetApp’s All Flash FAS meant data queries could be answered six times faster than before. Thus transforming all areas of the organisation by improving diagnostics, treatment and prevention for patients. Doctors are supported in real time by systems which collect data from a variety of databases during consultations. Big data analysis can help predict the likelihood of complications like secondary infections following initial treatment.

The system has helped increase diagnosis of some infections by almost a third. Scott Richert, vice president of enterprise services at MTS said: “The program has increased early sepsis identification by 30 per cent. We can analyze data so quickly that we’re able to get ahead of the condition, stop further deterioration, and save lives.”

Better use of data can also help improve future treatments by assessing different treatment regimes and helping create consistent, best-of-breed practise and data-proven care regimes.

But the technology is also allowing MTS to transform services and move treatment beyond the hospital and clinic and into patients’ own homes.

Patients can use tablets to have video conference consultations with doctors without leaving the house. The system is also ready to embrace new forms of telemetry and remote monitoring to further improve patient care, there’s more on MTS’s story here:

Of course not every part of an enterprise’s storage will be Flash based. A mixed environment – similar to the mixed cloud environment – requires tools which can manage a mixed estate of disk and solid state technologies. The future of storage is undoubtedly Flash but unless a company is starting from scratch its infrastructure will likely include a variety of technologies for some time to come. But software-defined systems should make these differences all but irrelevant – strategies for a data centric world  like NetApp’s Data Fabric can make this a reality.

Once the silos created by technologies which don’t work well together are removed the organisation can make more effective use of the data it creates.

Making data accessible to analysis across the business can bring unexpected insights.But removing silos can also have its own transformative impact on the business. By providing a unified access to data companies can also see business units align themselves more closely to the shared goals of the organisation. Technology changes almost always have a wider, and different impact, to the one they were designed for.

Instant access to shared data makes cross-department co-operation easier and deeper. As organisations grow and add new functions they very often form into their own, inward looking siloes with limited connections to the rest of the of the organisations. Better access to information across the business gives everyone within the organisation a glimpse of the big picture and a chance to share solutions and best practise ways to solve common problems.

Large companies often ‘re-invent the wheel’ with people in disparate departments dealing with the same challenges – a truly accessible data platform can reduce this duplication of effort and help share best practises.

Building an infrastructure with seamless access to data across the business will also allow you to take advantage of upcoming technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. It will also make it easier to add new data sources whether they come from Internet of Things projects or increasing access to unstructured data sources like social media intelligence.  But most important it can give senior management a crystal clear snapshot of the business and truly see how well, or badly, strategy is being translated into reality.

NetApp sees data as the crucial business asset which can transform any company into a digital pioneer and keep it ahead of the competition.

Putting data front and centre of business strategy is not just an option. In order to survive the digital transformation wave which is impacting the entire economy companies have to look to data as the most important and unique asset of their business.

Whatever the future brings, data company NetApp can help any organisation make the best use of its information to provide clear insights to survive in a fast changing world.


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