Apps were supposed to be the answer. They promised quick-and-easy solutions for just about anything -- and they generally delivered. In fact, they might have done a little too well. Now, instead of having an app for everything, you have millions of apps for anything. And while that is mainly an inconvenience on your phone, it's a major problem for large organizations. It’s also why the control of corporate data is a total myth.
Apps belong on your phone, not in your business.
In 2017, the average person kept around 80 apps on their phone, but they used only nine of them on a daily basis. And that’s fine -- other than a little home-screen clutter and some wasted storage space, having a bunch of unused apps on your phone isn’t causing any harm. After all, you never know when you’re going to get a sudden urge to go after your old Angry Birds high score.
This all changes when it comes to business, where unused applications are synonymous with waste -- wasted money from buying or building the app and wasted time from implementing it and training your staff on how to use it.
But here’s the thing: Even if you use an app every day at your business, it’s still a type of wasted time and money. That’s because there is a fundamental flaw in the way data works here.
A huge number of business applications are dedicated to helping other applications “share” data. This happens because each app creates its own proprietary data, like speaking its own language, and you need to get a new translator whenever you’re trying to have two or more apps speak to one another. It’s a tangled, complicated system that makes data totally out of control.
It’s impossible to control data.
It seems like every week there’s another massive data leak that exposes the sensitive information of thousands, if not millions, of people. The reason? Simply put, application networks are dumb. Every time two or more applications need to communicate, they create their own copies of your data. Every time this happens, you’re giving control of your data to a new application.
When you have thousands of applications networked together, as so many enterprises do, you have thousands of copies of data. That means thousands of applications with control over your data. How can anyone possibly keep up with all that? You can’t.
It’s why political promises of protecting your data ring hollow. Unless something fundamentally changes and applications no longer need their own proprietary data copies, you’ll never have full control over your data.
The future was supposed to be simple, and this is anything but. So what happened?
The evolution of data is stalled.
There are a number of issues that helped create the fragmented system of disconnected data you’re dealing with today. To start, programs existed before “data” as you know it. If the database had come first, the world would likely look very different today. But since programs came first, programmers got into the habit of adding databases to their programs instead of tying them into one centralized system of data.
This is a bit like every home having its own generator or power source instead of being tied into a centralized grid -- which is exactly how things used to be when your home’s power source was the fireplace. Even in the early days of electricity, people relied on individual generators to power their homes before Thomas Edison introduced the first electric grid.
So why is there no “grid” for data?
The biggest reason? Up until now, the fragmented system has worked well enough. It wasn’t until relatively recently that data was produced on such a prolific scale, and the status quo is hard to change. Because of this, the evolution of data has stalled.
At first, data was the spoken word and only the spoken word. Then, it was recorded onto stone and clay; in fact, some of the earliest writing ever discovered is a receipt for clothing, written in clay some 5,000 years ago. And if you really want to think about how much things stay the same, there’s also a receipt for beer from around the same time period.
Eventually, data moved onto papyrus, and then paper. And there it remained, with “ink on paper” remaining the pinnacle of data’s evolution from the invention of the pen through the printing press and typewriter.
With the advent of computers, data made the leap to digital, where it’s remained fundamentally unchanged. The average user doesn’t interact directly with data, so they don’t see how outdated and archaic current data systems actually are -- or how dangerous it is for them to remain that way.
So, what can be done to fix this? Instead of wasting time on new apps and integrations, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way data is created and used. And while this may sound complicated and aspirational, the truth is that it’s actually all about simplification.
Here’s what you need to do:
• Audit your existing SaaS platforms and other subscription services. How many people are using them? How vital are they to operations? Get a clear picture of what you’re using, who’s using it and what it does.
• Consolidate functions. Many business applications have redundant features that can be pared down onto a single platform. Consolidating functionality like this helps save money directly, while simplifying your workflow and boosting productivity.
• Cut out unnecessary platforms. Get rid of anything that isn’t being used or isn’t vital to your success. The fewer applications in play, the more focused you can be.
Following these steps will help halt app proliferation and all the headaches and vulnerabilities that come with it. The more companies can kick their app addictions, the more you’ll see data working the way it should.
Dan DeMers is the CEO and co-founder of Cinchy, the pioneer in enterprise Data Collaboration and Data Fabric technologies and a TechCrunch Disrupt Top Pick company. This article originally appeared in Forbes.