There were a great deal of interesting products and announcements relating to Azure, SharePoint and Office 365 at this year’s Microsoft Ignite conference. But, with the benefit of hindsight, the single most important announcement was the Open Data Initiative (ODI). This unique partnership, is more than just a single initiative that will benefit a single vendor. This is an announcement that has the potential to change the way many businesses operate now and into the future.

Working to Break Down Silos

The ODI brings Adobe, Redmond, Microsoft and SAP together to enable data to be exchanged — and enriched — across systems, making it a renewable resource that flows into intelligent applications. The companies work together on other projects, but said the purpose of this new partnership is to re-imagine customer experience management (CXM) by empowering companies to derive more value from their data

It is idiomatic now that data is a company’s most valuable asset. However, many businesses are still struggling to attain a complete view of their customer interactions and operations, because they are unable to connect information trapped in internal silos. In tandem with this, customer information also resides in external silos with intermediary services and third-party providers, limiting a company’s ability to create the right connections, garner intelligence and ultimately extract more value from its own data in real-time to better serve customers.

Companies around the world use software and services from Adobe, Microsoft and SAP to run product development, operations, finances, marketing, sales, human resources and more. To enable ODI, the companies have drawn up three guiding principles:

  • Every organization owns and maintains complete, direct control of all their data.
  • Customers can enable AI-driven business processes to derive insights and intelligence from unified behavioral and operational data.
  • A broad partner ecosystem should be able to easily leverage an open and extensible data model to extend the solution.

Based on these principles, the core focus of the Open Data Initiative is to eliminate data silos and enable a single view of the customer, helping companies to better govern their data and support privacy and security initiatives.

Related Article: Knowledge Management and Big Data: Strange Bedfellows?

How  Adobe, Microsoft, SAP Enable ODI

To enable ODI, the three companies are enhancing interoperability and data exchange between their applications and platforms — Adobe Experience Cloud and Adobe Experience Platform, Microsoft Dynamics 365, SAP C/4HANA and S/4HANA — through a common data model that provides the use of a data lake service on Microsoft Azure. This unified data store will allow customers to choose which development tools and applications they need to build and deploy services.

Patrick Salyer, general manager of SAP Customer Data Cloud explained, “We are partnering to change this status quo — unifying siloed data and enabling true end-to-end customer journeys,” he said. “We understand that our customers own and control their data, and believe it is our responsibility as leading technology providers to work together to support their needs. By unifying data across multiple systems of record, businesses can deliver personalized, real-time experiences, while dramatically reducing the costs of data consumption, transformation and management."

Learning Opportunities

The Role of the Cloud

The easiest way to break down silo walls is through the cloud, which is the glue behind the ODI. A recent study from the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) by John Mancini, chief evangelist and past president of AIIM, set out to quantify what organizations thought of ‘Intelligent Information Management (IIM),’ how they see the relationship between IIM and digital transformation, and where they are on both their digital transformation journeys and their plans for the underlying technologies that fuel core IIM practices and methodologies.

The research, which was based on responses to a survey from 366 information management professionals, uncovered four trends in information management:

  1. Every organization is on — or should be on — a digital transformation journey. The heart of this transformation journey is understanding, anticipating and redefining internal and external customer experiences.
  2. Digital transformation effectiveness is at risk by a rising tide of information chaos and confusion.
  3. The rising tide of information chaos and confusion is creating a demand for new information management practices that extend beyond traditional ECM. How organizations describe these new information management practices is still evolving.
  4. AIIM believes that four key IIM practices or methodologies — and an associated set of modular and configurable technology building blocks — are critical to digital transformation success.
    • A. Modernizing the information toolkit.
    • B. Digitalizing core organizational processes.
    • C. Automating compliance and governance.
    • D. Using analytics and machine learning.

Related Article: Data Ingestion Best Practices

ODI and the Cloud

The ODI aligns directly with this trend and the trend toward the cloud that has been increasingly important in the information management industry. The AIIM study revealed that more than 80 percent of information management professionals are planning to implement solutions that are at least partly cloud-based. This means that building the ODI on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform serves as the foundation that will future-proof deployments. “Moving to the cloud also opens up doors to many of today's cutting-edge technologies, especially around artificial intelligence (AI), which require elastic computing resources and are therefore often only cloud-based,” said Greg Milliken, SVP of marketing at M-Files.

He added that this new approach enables ODI by unifying information and related policies and processes across an organization's systems and repositories, including file shares, SharePoint, and ERP and CRM systems, providing immediate access to existing information on day one, wherever it resides, without complex and expensive data migration projects. Users will be able to access and manage information residing within any system, without disturbing existing processes and other users that depend on them. “This partnership brings a dynamic approach to intelligently managing information and data, bringing together information that once existed in legacy 'dark data' silos. As the shifting market continues toward SaaS models and cloud migrations, this initiative is a significant step in the right direction,” he said.

ODI is Only a Start

Steph Charbonneau, founder and CTO of TITUS, a data protection vendor, pointed out that while ODI is a good start, it does not go far enough. The idea of an open data initiative or standard, he said, is a good one, since the data is ultimately owned by the customer and not the provider. A critical consideration, though, is that any information moved, be it to the cloud or participating applications or platforms, will need to be properly identified so it can be properly handled during the transfer. “[This] may not go far enough as ultimately sensitive data may need to be encrypted, so this may require the industry to follow this initiative on the encryption/digital rights management front,” he said.