Six lessons from Amazon boss on data management

The data explosion brings huge challenges and opportunities to firms. [iStockphoto]

Amazon Web Services, the world's most comprehensive cloud platform, held its annual AWS re:Invent convention in Las Vegas two weeks ago. The event was attended by 50,000 people with 300,000 joining the 2,300 sessions virtually.

Among the key speakers was Amazon Web Services Chief Executive Adam Selipsky, whose keynote talk addressed ways that forward-thinking builders are transforming industries and our future through innovations in data infrastructure that are helping customers achieve their goals faster by taking advantage of untapped potential.

Here are key takeaways from his talk:

Data runs the universe

I grew up reading about exploration. Some environments are vast, unfathomable, and extreme but with endless possibilities. In 1609, Galileo made the universe accessible through a simple telescope. Since then we have been asking ourselves, what else is out there?

Now we know there are one septillion stars. In 2014 Hubble telescope captured the pillars of creation, dust and gas. This year, James Webb made it possible for us to see baby stars forming.

Like the universe, we now have a vast realm of data. It is the centre of all processes and business decisions, the cornerstone of every company's digital transformation. The data explosion brings huge challenges and opportunities to firms.

For example, Expedia runs 600 billion AI (artificial intelligence) predictions per year; Samsung's 1.1 billion users make 80,000 user requests per second; Pinterest stores one exabyte (a million terabytes) of data.

Like the evolution of tools to study the universe, we cannot manage data with one type of technology but need new set of tools to explore the vast data realm.

It is all about sustainability

Sustainability is the main issue of our generation. In just a few years, half of the world's population is projected to live in water-stressed areas, so to ensure all people have access to water, we all need to innovate new ways to help conserve and reuse this precious resource.

Our company operations will be running 100 per cent on renewable energy by 2025. We are already on target with 80 per cent halfway there. On water, we are using 0.25 litres per kilowatt hour in our data centres. We are working on water use efficiency with the goal of being water positive by 2030.

That means we will be returning more water to the community than the company uses in direct operations.

Be agile in lean times

There are real and challenging problems in the world right now. Economic uncertainty in the world, energy prices are going up, supply chain disruptions, there is war and a global pandemic. Many are tempted to cut back.

However, pushing your operations into the cloud should be cost-effective. Cloud offers the flexibility to scale up and scale down and spend only on what you use. You need to be agile with fewer resources by operating efficiently in lean times.

Some companies, by tapping on cloud operations, are saving at least 30 per cent or more in operations. Carrier Global has had a 40 per cent reduction in running costs; Gilead has cut $60 million in strategic cloud adoption systems. It is better to lean on the cloud than opt-out. Prepare for any disruption.

Balance data management

Any data management system should be user-friendly. However, you need good governance to keep it safe, balancing between control and access. Too much control and your data will be locked up in silos. People will not find what they need, when they need it. It stifles innovation and kills creativity.

On the other hand, too much access and data will end up in places you don't want it to be. People are naturally curious and that is why we went into space in the first place. Right governance gives people trust and confidence.

Tools such as Amazon datazone help to catalog, discover, share and govern data, helping to create a business glossary, for example.

Peer into the dark with secure data

While we looked to the heavens for light, we also realised that there is no light in some other environments. The depths of the sea are dark, and impenetrable, but we still ventured deeper. We went looking for bounty in shipwrecks but have only mapped less than 30 per cent of the ocean. We built sonar that replaced rudimentary bells.

Navigating the vast amount of data is likewise a daunting affair, akin to diving into the dark. We cannot go to the ocean floor with just a mask and a snorkel. You need stronger capabilities built by experts with years of experience, knowledge and best practices. Healthcare systems, banks and government agencies require secure data safeguards monitored around the clock.

Tools like Amazon guardduty continuously monitor your AWS accounts for malicious activity and unauthorised behaviour. Through Machine Learning and threat intelligence feeds, it detects anomalies and prevents threats before they happen.

Good enough is simply not good enough

Some types of exploration are simple, gentle wanderings while others are more extreme. Think of two teams that competed to become the first to plant a flag on the South Pole - the coldest, windiest and driest environment on earth. In 1910, Captain Robert F Scott uses Siberian ponies whose hooves sink in the ice and they die. The challenger, Roald Amundsen uses dogs to pull sledges. They don't sink and he wins the race.

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