It is a challenging time to be a CIO. Not just tasked with keeping the technology backbone functioning, they now must help their organisation make sense of mountains of data and become more agile so as to support a digital strategy – all while keeping that data and infrastructure safe from harm, and do so with minimal funds.

By Niral Patel, country manager of Oracle SA

Our latest data management study, Building trust in your information and security, shows that companies are still struggling when it comes to managing data to extract meaningful insight, securing it and using that data ethically. The good news is that although many companies still lack a clear data strategy, South African companies are most likely to have one.

The report shows that local businesses’ top 3 security and data priorities for the year ahead are to enhance security controls and procedures; to enforce technologies enabling insight availability instantly, anyplace, anytime – securely; and to promote internal awareness and education to threats.

Organisations are still being overwhelmed by the data deluge faced. Throwing more bodies at the problem isn’t efficient or even a guarantee of success. The 24/7 requirements on business and huge security challenges mean that ‘manual” management is no longer an option.

Companies need to tackle the problem head on. This will come from better internal practices and putting data management strategies and enhanced security controls in place. Additionally, the prudent use of cloud and emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation will also be key as we hit that tipping point where the data and security challenge is becoming just too big for humans alone.

It is for this reason that some forward-looking organisations are already embedding AI and Machine Learning (ML) technologies into their critical business systems and processes, with key areas of the business predicted to benefit the most from this type of automation being operations, customer service, decision support, IT and finance.


From automation to autonomous

But is South Africa ready for the coming wave of automation?

According to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Automation Readiness Index, which measures countries’ preparedness for the coming wave of intelligent automation, South Africa ranks at 22 with a score of 40.1, well below the average score of 62.1 and is considered as an emerging intelligent automation country.

In a recent survey conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, the majority of respondents consider automation as vital not only to compete but also to survive in the years ahead.

Yet, according to the report, so far few have made the move to any significant extent – for a number of reasons. As with anything new, it takes time for adoption – companies need time to get their heads around how these emerging technologies can fit into their current enterprise systems and just how to do that within their existing budgets, skills and culture.

While this change certainly won’t happen overnight, respondents are expecting to significantly increase their use of intelligent automation over the next three years. With that the case, business and IT leaders need to start considering how to move along their automation journey from basic adoption to full intelligent automation.

Advances in computational power, ML and AI technologies are providing the foundation for a new class of technology for automating enterprise IT, which allows it to effectively manage itself. This technology has a profound impact on how data is managed – and on the value that the data can provide.

Take the example of an autonomous database. Embracing core traits of being self-driving, self-securing and self-repairing it offers unprecedented availability, performance, and security – helping eliminate human error.

The autonomous database is set to revolutionise data management, helping boost the speed of insight and driving significant increases in productivity whereby manpower can be optimised, and resources can be deployed to higher value tasks.


Reaping the rewards

Data is no longer about protecting sensitive data and keeping hackers out; IT leaders must focus on enabling organisations to leverage, collaborate on and monetise their data without being exposed to privacy breaches, giving up their intellectual property or having data misused.

Our study shows that while a little over half of South African leaders surveyed believe that the secure management of data is very important to reputational risk, there are many key internal behaviours that compromise trust. Locally, the biggest concern around data security inside the organisation is a willingness to manage data through mobile devices or social platforms, followed by use of untrusted devices/connections in data management and misuse of critical data.

CIOs can lead the business in establishing data management strategies and protocols. They should further ensure this is both implemented through internal education, and effectively monitored.

As more data continues to be generated each day, there will be even more pressure on businesses to make the most of the data available. Database management will be more crucial than ever before, and emerging technologies like autonomous will soon become the norm as they help businesses boost innovation and financial gains.


Niral Patel is the