Data platforms make data more accessible for analysis and support the sharing of insight across your business. They are successors to business information systems such as Excel, gaining their competitive edge through the use of cloud computing and offering a rich suite of modern tools.

Why do data platforms exist?

The trend towards data platforms is linked with the capabilities offered by cloud computing and SaaS (software as a service). Data platforms enable businesses of all sizes to quickly and cost-effectively access cloud computing on a pay-as-you-go basis. This approach to processing data removes the need to purchase, setup and maintain your own hardware or software, along with the following 3 key benefits:

  1. Security – Analysing data held on a laptop introduces a huge security risk. Any data protection officer would have a fit if data of any sensitivity level was being processed directly on such easily compromised kit. A cloud-based data platform meets the highest security requirements, allowing data to be accessed from any company location over a secure internet connection.
  2. Reliability – Your cloud server provider uses multiple servers, so there’s no need to worry about the failure of an in-house server.
  3. Scalability – Our problems vary massively in size, and cloud computing can scale to match them.

Data platforms tie-together, refine, and build upon existing cloud services – fundamentally, they are a fancy and very well-integrated user interface. For example, virtual servers can be provisioned directly from Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. This is as close to bare metal as you can get and while daunting for your ‘lone wolf’ data engineer/scientist, this approach introduces prohibitive time and expertise overhead for an organisation with a number of different roles and skillsets that all need to have access to your data. 

At Merkle Aquila, we have adopted the benefits of cloud computing technology for our web-based data analytics platform. Among the global marketing teams using the Merkle Discovery Platform for all their marketing and customer analytics are an international bank, a global telecoms company and a major high street retailer. Discovery is a single platform for all customer behaviour, giving you one source of data for analytics, reporting, customer decision making and more. Siloed databases and stale data become a thing of the past, replaced by reliable information to better inform decision making.

Despite having our own, we’re agnostic about data platforms, which means we are in the interesting position of being able to look at the various products on the market and talk about their differences. 

In our experience, there are 3 major decisions you need to make when choosing your platform:

Is flexibility important to you?

Platforms vary in their degree and direction of specialisation. More flexible platforms offer the opportunity for greater customisation, but require more input to get there. Rather than hire engineering expertise, consider your approach over the long term; it may be more rewarding to choose a platform with a more defined workflow for the sake of short-term analytical efficiency.

Who are you trying to support?

Engineers want their scripts readily available for easy scheduling and automation; analysts want tools to query the data and present back insights; data scientists want the latest tools to support their model building. Consider the individuals who will be given access to data and the tools they need.

How prepared are you?

If your data already sits in cloud storage, then your experience could be close to plug-and-play. Otherwise, preparing for deployment of the platform means surveying your data, understanding where it all lies and porting it across. The first step is to prepare the data; the second is preparing the organisation. What use is a new platform if you’re not familiar with it?

A final word

Data platforms are often misunderstood in their intended purposes and capabilities, and how competing offerings are similar and where they differ. It’s easy to get confused when looking through the data platforms available, so it’s worth exploring with a free trial. At Merkle Aquila, we try and learn these platforms for ourselves, and can vouch that most are well-supported. But, if you do get stuck, get in touch. We’re always happy to help.

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