Data needs to follow lessons laid down by the shipping industry and develop a “standard shipping crate” to carry data in an established form factor “off premise, off company, off territory and off region”. This is according to SAP’s CTO for global customer operations, Irfan Khan.
Speaking at the firm’s Leaders Meet Innovation conference in London yesterday on a panel about technology and connectivity, Khan explained how the very nature of our lives today is making us “data horders”, and in order to disrupt the log jam and start processing data effectively in an analytical sense, collaboration is required.

What’s changed in recent years, he said, is “the way we’re using information now on a day to day basis”.”Work, life and play is almost converging now. We’re all at work now and then the idea of going home and having some play time doesn’t exist anymore.”
As a result, said Kahn, his own family has filled 8TB worth of network-attached storage in just one year.”What’s on it? I haven’t had time for an audit,” he laughed.
“But the reality of the situation we’re seeing is we’re becoming data hoarders – always accruing information. But getting proper analytics against that data will be the true disruption,” he added.
“In terms of transformation, the unfortunate situation is we still need standardisation. In large companies, be it BT, McLaren [who were also present on the panel] or SAP, we have to be participants in standardisation.”
Kahn used the metaphor of shipping crates, and the ISO standard – developed between 1968 and 1970 – to further his point.
“The parallel is, if you think back to the time when we were shipping goods into different ports, there was the creation of the ISO shipping container – the standard shipping container. Before the arrival of this, there was no way of being able to take things from a port to another port – machinery or goods or whatever – and deliver them in time because there was a mismatch; you’d deliver something form one location to another, and then figure out how to logistically manage that load.”
Kahn commented that the universal container “actually created massive bilateral trading opportunities between America and Europe”.
“And where we’re getting at now with data and our ability to transform and push data from continent to continent – that needs to be standardised. And so we need a standard shipping container taking the data off premise, off company, off territory and off region.”
When asked who should make this happen, Kahn opined that “ultimately, policy and policy makers will need to play a huge role.”
“Policy-makers in Europe haven’t quite got their heads round it yet,” he added, before reiterating that large companies also needed a “big role” too.
But with international data remaining a thorny topic, particularly in a post-Snowden world in which few trust government anyway, the enterprise is finding it has just as little clout when trying to change minds and hearts to allow the right kinds of freedoms or protections.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel again pressed for greater access to communications data by police yesterday, following last April’s proposed changes made invalid by the European Court of Justice [ECJ] in the wake of increased public distrust after Edward Snowden’s NSA spying revelations.
Meanwhile, UK prime minister David Cameron – with only months left on his campaign trail for re-election – has travelled to the US to discuss mutual support for greater government powers over public data, which president Barack Obama seems in many ways to support, as he tries to tighten the US’s own laws.
Where this rising temperature will leave utopian dreams like SAP’s is entirely up in the air right now, but such high profile legislation will certainly need to become clearer before exiled data in various continents can hope to find itself movable with such hoped-for ease.

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