Be agile. Be adaptable. Be flexible. In today's climate, these axioms, while wise, are beginning to become more and more cliché. Industries are changing at unprecedented rates, so hearing "be adaptable" is much like hearing mom reiterate the importance of good grades. The need is self-evident, but the task can be gargantuan.
What’s going on here? Why do top executives fear vendor lock-in so much? How can it be more significant than “Security” to corporate leaders?
Because Security doesn’t matter if your organization is unable to, or prevented from, adapting to the rapidly evolving forces that shape every industry. Long term growth is a triathlon, not a marathon, and having the Flexibility to change your gear to match the landscape is critical to success.
Tech startups have long understood the importance of flexibility as they battle the chaos of establishing or entering a market. It’s only natural then that large organizations, in the universal movement to "innovate like a startup," have begun to follow suit. Many of the inbound prospects we speak to at MetaRouter are facing executive pressure to operate on the cutting edge of what’s possible with data. Specifically, technical leaders are feeling acute pressure to find solutions that allow them easily and rapidly to adopt the constantly emerging new technologies for data infrastructure.
But what does “Flexibility” really mean when it comes to data infrastructure? This area of our blog is meant to deeply explore this topic and better understand its ramifications for all types of organizations. We’ll evaluate new technologies, new approaches, and share experiences and stories from our customers.
The Lifeblood: Data
To help frame the discussion, let’s quickly define the purpose and nature of organizational data, and provide a brief overview of how we see flexibility permeate the mindset of successful organizations as they architect their data infrastructures.
For modern competitive companies, data is the lifeblood, transmitting critical information across all functions. And like blood, this data is leveraged in vastly different ways depending on its end user.
If you simply look at one slice of data, online customer behavior (or “Clickstream” data) for example:
- Product teams will monitor it to build and improve UI/UX on their apps.
- Marketing teams will use it to build email automation.
- Finance teams will analyze it to build dynamic forecasting models and study trends.
An interesting observation here: often technology is created for the sole purpose of unlocking future technology. In fact, you could argue that data infrastructure is nothing more than a means to the above (and many other) ends. If data is the blood of an organization, then data infrastructure is the circulatory system--the veins and arteries, heart, white blood cells and other features designed to provide access to and protect this critical material.
So, if data is the blood and data infrastructure is the circulatory system inside of an organization, why is “Flexibility” so important? Because like climates, political landscapes, access to food and water, etc. the environment around an organism or organization is constantly changing.
The Circulatory System: Infrastructure
One of the most obvious examples of this evolving environment in recent times is what has happened to Retail in the age of E-commerce. The MetaRouter team has built several technology companies in Retail over the last decade, and we have watched the industry landscape shift violently, with a dramatic effect on its inhabitants. As technology and security has improved, consumers have become more comfortable shopping online. This has created a seismic shift that has caught many, if not most, of the industry leaders flat-footed and opened the door for new leaders who didn’t even exist 30 years ago.
That in and of itself isn’t typically enough to wipe out well-established players, but many minor and major retailers have gone under in the last several years. Why is that? And why have some managed to survive despite being caught off guard? In our experience, the key difference has been a company culture that values and deliberately encourages flexibility.
We engage organizations at the data infrastructure level, and it’s amazing to see the spectrum of company-wide impact this level can have depending on the degree of flexibility. Perhaps more so than any other corporate teams today, technology and data teams will influence a company’s long-term prospects. Teams who embrace new technologies, who avoid vendor lock-in, who pair security with flexibility, enable a company to adapt quickly to industry changes and stay competitive. For example, many of the retailers we work with have technology teams who are aggressively working to provide better access to data for departments around the company. They are adopting emerging technologies like Apache Airflow or Kubernetes to improve data collection and routing. And they are baking the ability to swap technologies in and out of their architectures in anticipation of environmental shifts.
These teams are future-proofing their companies by ensuring access to data will never be a bottleneck.
We like to work with these companies. We believe in them and their approach to technology and data infrastructure. Our platform is designed to offer maximum flexibility to these customers by making it easy to switch clouds, swap out stateful message queues, and add or remove 3rd party integrations or internal databases and data warehouses.
We have written and will continue to write extensively on the topic of Flexibility within data infrastructure. We hope these posts are informative and helpful as you process through architecting your data infrastructure for the future.