In the last few years, data has become critical for running a business. As people do more of their everyday activities online, this has created a huge pool of information that forward-thinking businesses can use to better service their customers and improve their operations.

With developments such as mobile technology, high-speed broadband and the Internet of Things all contributing to a massive increase in data traffic around the world, enterprises are now dealing with huge amounts of data, so the need for new solutions for managing this has become hugely important.

But while there are many good operational reasons for undertaking a data platform modernisation programme, such as cutting costs and improving productivity, being able to easily handle and analyse information can also play a key role in helping businesses innovate. With tools such as SQL Server 2014, businesses can gain fast insights that translate into long-term benefits for their operations.

Faster performance, better results

One key factor that can make the difference between a data platform that supports innovation and one that holds it back will be the performance of the technology. SQL Server 2014, for example, can greatly help accelerate application performance, which can boost the speed of operations by up to 30 times.

This can have a huge impact on areas such as employee productivity and end-user experience, enabling them to better engage with customers and get the results they need. And if users are equipped with high-performing solutions, they will find it much easier to be innovative, safe in the knowledge their business technology solutions will be able to support their ideas.

Options such as native cloud solutions can quickly deliver high-quality applications and built-in security, so users will also not have to worry about everyday challenges such as maintenance and data protection. This therefore frees up their time so they can focus more closely on activities that will improve the business.

A data first approach

In today’s environment, many organisations will not only need to capture large volumes of structured data, but also significant amounts of unstructured information, such as social media conversations, Internet of Things data and more.

Being able to store and analyse all these data types is essential for enabling advanced analytics, such as machine learning and predictive analytics, which will be crucial if companies are to use their information to guide their future strategy and boost innovation. Unless the platform underlying this is capable of handling all this structured and unstructured information, the data itself will be useless.

One example of how this is being applied to real-world solutions is Transport for London. The company is using data to transform how it optimises the capital’s public transport systems. It uses SQL Server 2014 to help capture user data from sources such as contactless payments systems, then study it to spot trends and understand the traffic patterns of its users.

The right results, as soon as possible

However, having access to this information is one thing. It is quite another to turn this into valuable insight that can be used to guide strategy, and do this quickly. Reducing time to market is a top priority in today’s fast-moving environment, as it will be no use developing innovative, data-based solutions if they are already outdated by the time the results are put into practice – or if firms find out too late their plans will not be effective.

One key benefit of an effective data management platform in this regard is the ability it gives businesses to experiment with new ideas, get an idea of whether they are likely to work, and then change course quickly based on discoveries made during the trial period.

For instance, book publisher HarperCollins wanted to experiment with a new business intelligence system to help them understand their customers’ interests. In order to get the best results, they needed to get started quicker than traditional solutions would allow for.

SQL Server and Microsoft Azure helped them get their prototype systems up and running in a matter of weeks, rather than the months it would have taken if they needed to procure hardware solutions and build applications on top of that.

This approach also provided the company with much more flexibility, as they can use the cloud tools to run trials and confirm the system works, while also being able to move the entire system back on-premises without any changes, should they desire so in the future.