Business Is Real-Time, When Will IT Catch Up?

Seemingly happy to channel, process, analyse and act upon data at a less than instantaneous speed, real-time data is not a de facto standard for many organisations’ IT departments, who still traipse laboriously somewhere in the treacly morass of ‘as soon as possible’ data cadence. 

Three businesspeople are in a meeting. One is pitching a sales proposition, one is considering the buying company’s procurement policy and the likely benefits of the service or product being offered… and one is wasting company time and resources by tagging along when they should really be working.

The salesperson concludes the pitch, lays down the price-performance position, offers some sweeteners to incentivise the deal and pushes forward a piece of paper containing a contract.

“Just sign here, it’s a great deal – let’s get started,” says the spokesperson.

There is no punchline, it’s not a joke, this is as simple and direct as reality often is. The world runs in real-time and businesspeople can either snatch the right deal when it is presented, or they can let it pass them by.

Traipsing Through Technology Treacle 

If we can take this perhaps over-stylised interchange as a lesson, then it might force us to consider why so much of our global digital economy works on a less than real-time structure. Seemingly happy to channel, process, analyse and act upon data at a less than instantaneous speed, real-time data is not a de facto standard for many organisations’ IT departments, who still traipse laboriously somewhere in the treacly morass of ‘as soon as possible’ data cadence.

Apache Cassandra-based enterprise database company DataStax thinks that this situation is untenable. As a real-time data specialist, the company suggests that we are in the midst of what it calls the ‘great data race’ as businesses in every sector start to realise they need real-time data tools at the fore.

The DataStax ‘State of the Data Race 2022’ report is based on an in-depth survey of more than 500 technology leaders and practitioners across a variety of industries about their data strategies. According to the report, 78% of all respondents agreed that real-time data is a ‘must-have’, not a ‘nice-to have’.

Real-Time Data Is Air

The company points to a comment made by Greg Sly in his role as SVP of infrastructure and platform services at American communications conglomerate company Verizon when he said, succinctly: “[Today, in business] real-time data is air [it’s that critical for our survival].”

That survival factor is all about working at the speed of modern business. This is the point on the IT architecture curve where real-time data is used to drive in-the-moment use cases such as recommendations and personalisation, or to power systems capable of delivering information relating to always-up-to-date inventory and logistics.

Indeed, when asked how the use of real-time data has impacted software application developers’ jobs, 66% of real-time-data-focused organisations agree that developer productivity has improved. These companies know that developers need these data streams to build always-on personalisation-enriched systems, they’re just not all doing it yet. So why is that?

Real-Time Data Challenges

The top three challenges companies face when trying to use real-time data are complexity, costs and accessibility (39%, 32% and 30%, respectively). Further, some 35% of companies that are ahead in using data in their operations said their biggest problem was finding people with the right skills in their business units around real-time data and applications, so that they could make use of it more widely.

The big number we are supposed to go away with here (with the caveat that we should remember that all surveys are arguably pre-loaded and contrived to a degree and that this is a real-time data survey carried out by a real-time data company) is that 71% of all respondents agree (either completely or somewhat) that they can tie their revenue growth directly to real-time data.

“Real-time data is like the ‘Mediterranean diet’: all healthy benefits with no downside,” said Bryan Kirschner, Vice President of Strategy, DataStax. “The survey showed real-time data powers 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.”

Kirschner added: “While the benefits of real-time data are widely recognised, survey respondents identified barriers – such as data complexity, controlling data costs and data accessibility – to leveraging real-time data. Yet, new developments in data architectures are breaking down those barriers.”

DataStax worked in partnership with ClearPath Strategies to create this study, which surveyed 556 executives and technical practitioners in organisations spanning a variety of industries. Two-thirds of their organisations had more than 1,000 employees, and none had fewer than 100.

Hmm, Who Ya Gonna Call?

DataStax clearly didn’t carry out this market analysis for the good of its health – it wants us to look at the shape of its open data stack for real-time applications. With Western European offices in London’s Fitzrovia as well as Cork, Paris and Berlin, the company works with UK multinationals on a parallel basis that reflects the operations run from its central Silicon Valley HQ in Santa Clara.

The open data stack for real-time applications in question here includes Astra DB, a multi-cloud Database as a Service (DSaaS) built on Apache Cassandra, and Astra Streaming, a multi-cloud streaming as a service built on Apache Pulsar. Both of which are claimed to be technologies that eliminate the barriers to creating real-time applications for developers.

The company promises us that developers at many of the largest global organisations are using DataStax’s open data stack to build scalable, secure real-time applications.

According to DataStax: “Siggy.ai, a real-time recommendation app that integrates with Shopify, was able to quickly build an in-the-moment AI-powered recommendation engine for online shoppers using DataStax Astra DB.”

While Alpha Ori, which offers digital solutions to maritime shipping enterprises to provide intelligent analytics, alerts and insights to vessel stakeholders both aboard and onshore, is able to get high read and write throughput for large volumes of data. This allows Alpha Ori to deliver analytics and alerts for predictive maintenance, fuel savings, enhanced asset utilisation, etc.

A Turning Tide

There are real-time adoption trends surfacing here, clearly. But even with that said, not every firm in every vertical is going to have a predictive maintenance and personalisation epiphany overnight and start calling for real-time data platform empowerment by Christmas, or perhaps sooner.

If it is perhaps a more steady turning tide rather than any kind of overnight realisation, but that’s arguably pretty consequential too. After all, time and tide wait for no man, woman or child. When it’s time to get off the beach, there is no buffer system, you had better walk in real-time.

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Adrian Bridgwater
Adrian Bridgwater
Adrian Bridgwater is a technology journalist with three decades of press experience. Primarily he works as a news analysis writer dedicated to a software application development ‘beat’; but, in a fluid media world, he is also an analyst, technology evangelist and content consultant. As the previously narrow discipline of programming now extends across a wider transept of the enterprise IT landscape, his own editorial purview has also broadened. He has spent much of the last 10 years also focusing on open source, data analytics and intelligence, cloud computing, mobile devices and data management.

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