Mark Porter has an interesting background. He’s the guy who used to run AWS’s Relational Database Service (RDS) and Aurora, and prior to that he spent over a decade at Oracle. Now he’s the CTO of MongoDB. Porter’s pedigree puts him in an interesting position to comment on the evolving database landscape, given that he’s worked at three database pioneers. So what’s he saying?

That former divisions between “back office and front office [are] dissolving.” That is, systems of record and systems of engagement, once so clearly separated, are merging, in Porter’s view.

If true, what does this mean for enterprises desperately trying to modernize their data strategies? According to Porter, it’s time for enterprises to “think beyond the database, and architect an actual ‘data platform’ that can process, store, secure, and analyze data in real-time, across all the relevant data sets.” But isn’t this just a fancy new way of trying to reimagine data warehouses and data lakes?

The machines have questions

For a long time data really has been different. Back-office systems relied on structured data, nicely fitted into rows and columns. Such relational databases were an amazing innovation at the time, and they continue to serve enterprises well to this day. However, as I wrote years ago,

The comfortably structured world of the relational database is increasingly challenged by mountains of unstructured or semistructured data. Much of this new data is created by what Geoffrey Moore calls systems of engagement, even as the last several decades have been built on systems of record (such as ERP and CRM systems).

Porter goes even further, adding a third type of system, “systems of insight.” As Porter explains:

For decades, enterprises have maintained systems of record and systems of engagement. Systems of record are foundational, mission-critical, sources of truth that are accessed primarily by internal programs and users. Systems of engagement are the digital interfaces with which customers and employees interact. And recently we have seen the addition of systems of insight, which combine data from various sources to inform decision-making across the enterprise. For a long time, each system lived on different computers, had different data management requirements, and were funded by different departments.

It’s no longer the case, however, that companies can get away with staid systems that plod along in a silo, failing to interact with other data and struggling to evolve. Things are moving too fast, writes Porter, and machines are starting to ask the questions:

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.