It’s time to commit. 

If I could whittle down all of my thoughts about the world of data and information in 2016 to just four words, it would be those four. 

C-level executives and technology end-users alike all seem to sense it. Dabbling and experimentation's time has come and gone. The time to get serious about smartly leveraging data to increase productivity and extract insights that deliver tangible value to the business has arrived. 

CIOs today face a situation akin to that of a coach hired to rebuild a college football program. Wins aren’t expected right out of the gate — the coach needs time to make changes, changes that will pay off in the long run. Sooner or later, though, the grace period ends, and the coach needs to win. Or else.

A similar cultural dynamic is at play in the data and information management space. The grace period is over. Companies have made the right investments and put the right pieces in place, but a heightened sense of urgency — a feeling that the time has come for all those investments to start paying off in the form of tangible, business benefits such as lower TCO or bottom line improvements. Or else.

In other words, it’s time to commit.

With that sense of urgency in mind, here's how I think the data and information management landscape will evolve in 2016:

1. Analytics Will Move to the Edge

If the aim is to truly commit to achieving tangible business benefits from your data and information management efforts, then the application of modern advanced analytics is the way to go. At this point that shouldn’t be what anyone would consider a new concept. But 2016 promises some new and exciting things for analytics.

Chief among those will be the movement of analytics to the edge. In other words, moving the analysis and processing closer to the data, rather than bringing the data back from where it originated. The explosive growth of edge devices and broader IoT implementations means more data and information is created at the edge of the system than ever before. This changing data landscape will force the industry to flip the longstanding analytic model on its head.

Instead of pulling data in to a centralized source (such as a data warehouse) in order to run analytics on that data, organizations will push analytic capabilities out to the edge and run analytics directly at the source. This approach will have a duel benefit: it will eliminate the time and cost associated with transporting data to a central repository, and it will enable organizations to take more immediate action in response to insight. And that’s a great thing if you’re committed to putting analytics to work for your business.

2. Practicality Will Hit the Cloud

The “move everything to the cloud” sentiment that has CxOs pushing more and more investment into the area will be hit with a dose of practicality in 2016. 

Namely, that moving everything to the cloud is complicated and expensive, too. And that maybe, just maybe, there’s a data management middle ground out there, where cloud-based and on-premises data ecosystems co-exist by design. 

Under the pressure to deliver a winning data management strategy in the here and now, I expect more organizations to put the brakes on the notion of going all-in on cloud. Instead, they’ll actively seek out the aforementioned middle ground, where data ecosystems are built based on practical business needs, the result being a balance of cloud, on-prem, traditional and non-traditional solutions that address real business requirements.

3. Complexity Will Expand and Evolve

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Complexity is the new reality, and will remain so in 2016. 

Traditional data sources will continue to play a vital role in the data ecosystem, while at the same time, non-traditional or NoSQL data sources will proliferate. There’s no either/or scenario here. Not now, and probably not ever. 

That’s why I expect 2016 to be the year when companies stop fighting or trying to avoid complexity, and start managing and embracing it. That’s right — companies will embrace complexity. After all, if your end goal is come away with insights powerful enough to change your business, then the more data types and data sources available open up more opportunities for you to learn and benefit from it.

4. Platforms Will Consolidate

We’ll also see the beginning of consolidation in the NoSQL platform market, especially in relation to the Hadoop platform landscape. I’m not here to predict who will emerge victorious or who will go by the wayside. But I do believe that our overall desire as an industry to deliver tangible results will quell our appetite for experimenting with or exploring proof of concept projects with new data platforms. And when our appetite for experimentation and exploration (at least, experimentation and exploration without the promise of immediate return) diminishes, even to a small degree, it will set the wheels of consolidation in motion.

This won't happen overnight, and we’ll likely see a fair share of new entrants into the space, but I do believe that, holistically speaking, more and more companies will pick a horse (or two) and go with it, and that as a result, the process of market consolidation will begin.

5. Time Will Become the New Lens of Assessment

Companies, C-level executives, IT teams in the trenches share one common trait — they don't have enough time. 2016 will mark the start of an era in which everything — from the ground-level technologies we deploy to the high-level strategies they support — will be viewed through the lens of time. Data and information management strategies that save (and just as importantly, create) time will be those that gain widespread adoption. 

Title image "Tissue Delivery" (CC BY 2.0) by  kamshots