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Eng Lim Goh, SVP and CTO of AI at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, began Wednesday’s HPE Discover panel on data and digital transformation by discussing a challenge most enterprises recognize: “We are awash in data, but the data is siloed.”

“At HP, we had the same thing,” he continued. “We had 15 data silos from sales, marketing, engineering, manufacturing, and so on.” Goh said after federating data silos, the company went from monthly forecast snapshots to daily snapshots, which made a significant difference. But the challenge is multi-pronged. Data is difficult to get, especially when it’s raw and dispersed, and while enterprises may be awash in data, it’s not always the right data.

To discuss these challenges and how to gather data strategically for the future, Goh sat with a panel that included representatives from the Walt Disney Studios, Texas Children’s Hospital, Wells Fargo, and Novartis. The group discussed what data to collect, how to organize it, and where data will be in the future, particularly with regard to their own teams’ challenges and priorities.

What data to collect

“I’m reminded of the ’60s and ’70s, when we called a large part of our DNA ‘junk DNA,'” Goh said. “And of course today we realize that [much of it has] functions. So what is junk today might be gold or valuable tomorrow.”

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Texas Children’s Hospital SVP and chief information and innovation officer Myra Davis felt this resonated with her organization. Being a pediatric hospital, it stores all data for at least 20 years, she said.

“While initially we may have thought that data stored was not necessarily needed, we now have sort of transformed our conversation to recognizing that data is golden for us,” she said. Now the hospital believes this data can inform insights into disease diagnostics, for example, or help it be more proactive in anticipating the needs of targeted populations.

It’s a similar case for Stephen Voice, head of global health digital solutions at Novartis, as he deals with disease prediction. He says having as much data as possible is really valuable for his company, but he’s interested in ensuring privacy, security, and consent to create a value proposition for data-sharing. Sandra Nudelman, head of consumer data and engagement platforms at Wells Fargo, echoed Davis’ sentiments since her industry also has regulations requiring the collection of certain data. Even beyond what’s mandated, she said the company keeps other data for its potential value.

Benjamin Havey, VP of innovation, marketing, and collaboration technology at the Walt Disney Studios, is dealing with very different types of data. He said the company is primarily interested in how its content is performing, which means large volumes of social and box office data. The studio is also interested in metadata and is increasingly focusing on internal data.

How to organize the data

Enterprises in the financial industry face a particular challenge when it comes to organizing data. Between the decades of mandated collection, even before the data was seen as valuable to the businesses themselves, and the sheer number of acquisitions, which have combined all that data under new roofs, there’s a tremendous amount of complexity. So Nudelman says for Wells Fargo, it’s all about “the how,” figuring out how to structure data to benefit shareability and scale. She added that the company also makes sure to “keep it small, nimble, and quick so that you know small parts of the business can move. It’s an art, not a science.”

As with the question of what type of data to collect, organizations that work with highly regulated data and those that don’t experience different challenges and benefits. Davis said Texas Children Hospital missed a “win opportunity” early on and is now laser-focused on the “how,” while Harvey shared the Walt Disney Studios’ iterative approach.

“We’re just trying to capture as much interesting data as possible, annotate it as it comes in so we build up an understanding of it, and then also over time start to layer in additional insights,” he said, adding that once large amounts of data have been collected, AI and machine learning can be used to understand the bigger picture.

Rounding out the topic, Voice weighed in on the challenge of bringing all the data together in an aggregated way while considering data governance and transparency within the organization.

“If people are not aware of what other parts of the organization are doing, you have data silos that pop up like mushrooms all over the place,” he said. “This is a huge missed opportunity and also a huge burn on time, money, and resources.”

Where to keep the data

When it comes to data storage, “this is my biggest challenge because data is absolutely everywhere,” Voice said. “It could be in health information systems, it could be in logistics management information systems, it could be on people’s smartphones, it could be on paper.”

To tackle this, he said health actors are “building apps for everything,” but he has major concerns about fragmentation and companies trying to reinvent the wheel. He said he sees health care workers carrying 10 devices to capture data while out in the field and believes partnerships would make more sense. “There is a huge amount of data out there in the ecosystem. I encourage everybody to really be diligent in exploring and discovering what data is there before you go to capture it again,” Voice added.

When it comes to integrated devices and data overall, Davis discussed security, compliance, and consent as the Texas Children’s Hospital’s reasons for prioritizing security in the architectural design.

Interestingly, while Nudelman talked about bringing Wells Fargo’s data back from the edge, Harvey said the Walt Disney Studios is expanding the edge.

“Even four or five years ago, the prospect of building out a big data warehouse or data lake I think was pretty daunting,” he said. “But now with cloud-based technology and some of the platforms that are out there, it’s really easy to mix and match.”

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