As we know, the cloud model drives the adoption of services. That’s one of the reasons why “XaaS” has become an all-purpose term to define “anything” (that’s the X) as a service. Just a few examples are software as a service, infrastructure as a service, platform as a service—the list goes on.

In this world powered by web connectivity, exchanging information through fluid networks is critical to keeping our global information economy going. This concept of “interoperability,” or the ability of technology systems to exchange information based on common standards. This is so important today that governments like the European Union are mandating that technology systems remain open. It’s also the rationale behind the formation of the Open Data Initiative (ODI).

A Push for Information Exchange

The Open Data Initiative, a joint effort between Microsoft, Adobe, and SAP, was announced at the Microsoft Ignite conference this fall in Orlando.

SAP CEO Bill McDermott described the initiative as a “seminal moment” for the technology industry. He suggested that now is the time to push harder for information exchange across enterprises and supply chains.

Open Means Prosperous

McDermott’s take on the Open Data Initiative appeared in Computer Weekly as, “When you’re open, you’re prosperous. When you think about this open world that we’re talking about, we have to be extensible with each other—for and with each other—so these platforms have to work together,” McDermott said.

There are, understandably, some caveats and qualifications. There is no cloud without information interoperability. But at the same time, there is no information interoperability without the need for privacy, security, and governance.

This “data lockdown” element is very much a part of what the Open Data Initiative stands for, and it forms the substance of the agreement’s structure.

Democratize and Liberate Data

We’re talking about democratizing data access, but we’re also talking about liberating data from the corporate enterprise silos it has settled into.

Why do these silos exist? There are lots of reasons, but we could point to three for some context:

  • Team structures: Applications and databases that have been developed by disconnected (sometimes globally separated) teams will often sit in opposition to each other, without any connectivity. This can come from a complete lack of awareness. But it can also be purposeful in environments where teams compete against each other.
  • Mergers and acquisitions: These messy combinations of different companies often lead to silos where systems were not originally engineered to exist together. They can also lead to repetitive systems and similar data living in multiple places.
  • Vendor lock-in: Sometimes historical strategic decisions made by one arm of IT or another department result in redundant or proprietary systems that are hard to shut down. Typically, information silos will exist here too.

Why Our Data Holds Us Back

Google open-source strategist Edd Wilder-James wrote in the Harvard Business Review in 2016, “Software applications are written at one point in time, for a particular group in the company. In a world of limited resources, applications are optimized for their main function. The incentives of individual teams are unlikely to encourage data sharing as a primary requirement.”

The trouble with these data silos is that we need regular access to clean, consistent data if we want to start to take advantage of the latest technologies.

As the Open Data Initiative aims to democratize and liberate data in controlled environments, the hope is that we will reduce these silos and build new bridges of interoperability for data streams that may exist in different organizations in different formats.

Why Bother with Open Data?

Most technologists and businesspeople would probably agree that interoperability in and of itself is of value. But there are deeper reasons that these three major enterprise software companies are prioritizing this initiative.

As we start to apply web-scale machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) functions to our technology, we risk missing the total intelligence picture if we fail to provide a base level of interoperability and compatibility among all streams of live and historical data. Even basic analytics programs tell us little if they can’t respond to data that’s hidden in the corners of our organizations. This isn’t an official mission statement for the Open Data Initiative, but it arguably could be.

Where machine learning tools are spending a lot of time on data cleansing and data deduplication now, the hope is that initiatives like this will help us move ahead on the information analytics curve.

A Common Data Model

Moritz Zimmerman, SAP’s CTO of customer experience explained the rationale behind the Open Data Initiative to Diginomica’s Derek du Preez at SAP Customer Experience Live in Barcelona.

“The idea is really to create one common data model, starting with the customer entity. It’s a lot of work in progress. Everyone might have their interpretation of where to store the data, or what to do with the data, where the data should best sit, but let’s make sure it’s portable,” Zimmerman said.

In terms of platform specifics, the Open Data Initiative aims to unify SAP C/4HANA and SAP S/4HANA with partner technologies including Microsoft Azure, Adobe Experience Cloud, and Adobe Experience Platform.

It’s still early, but the three founding member CEOs—McDermott, Nadella, and Narayen—agree there is scope for other firms to join the group (with Salesforce and Oracle being the most obvious suspects). There are interesting and more interoperable times ahead, for sure.

If data governance inspires you, hear why it’s a good time to join us for the ASUG Experience for Enterprise Information Management.