Data defined digital transformation

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software)

The traditional task of CIOs being responsible for the technology strategy and procurement within an enterprise is no longer straightforward. The CIO and their team have the unenviable task of tracking the latest innovations and ensuring that businesses embrace these in a risk-free way that simultaneously keeps them ahead of the competition. And, this just got harder.

Cloud technology, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are disrupting the business landscape.  These technologies rely on access to quality data and consequently the CIO must first understand and redefine a company’s data strategy before confidently embracing the full potential of cloud, IoT, AI and ML. 

What’s more, it is not only about having data, this data must be of good quality and be controllable and consistent to ensure that it can be relied upon to feed these technologies appropriately, to generate business value and inform decisions.

Data and the CIO

While the CIO’s goals of driving innovation and improving operational efficiency are not complementary, for once digital transformation promises both.  AI, for example, can allow businesses to generate information automatically that previously would have required months of research and analysis.  It is innovative, efficient and can reveal previously untapped business value. 

Gartner predicts that connected devices will hit 14.2 billion in 2019 and grow to 25 billion by 2021, largely driven by previously human-run processes being automated and actioned by devices and algorithms.  For areas such as data ownership, algorithmic bias, privacy and regulatory compliance, it suggests that the data powered technology driving the insight will not be easily understood by those actually affected by it.

If these predictions come to fruition, having a handle over the data which fuels this technology is even more important. But, as the business world moves to a more decentralised technology model and ‘shadow IT’ runs rife, CIOs are no longer completely in control of technology within the business; the data it creates; or the security processes around it. Gartner predicts that 50 per cent of the data generated will soon be outside the corporate datacentre, generated by IoT applications and edge computing devices.  As a result, CIOs must modernise their data strategy, ensuring it can seamlessly and reliably feed data insights from across the whole business into a technology strategy that will deliver digital transformation.

A redefined data strategy

Organisations need to treat data as a corporate asset that can be used for better and faster decision-making.  This requires users to truly trust the data at their disposal with the proper data governance principles in place.  Data governance breaks down data silos from disparate systems across the enterprise, and establishes a set of processes, standards and polices that the organisation can agree on to make the data consumable enterprise-wide.  An automated data governance platform quickly and securely delivers trusted data to the business users who need it to perform their jobs.

The CIO must also build a strong relationship with a Chief Data Officer (CDO). While traditionally the CIO has been responsible for building and maintaining the organisation’s technology assets and therefore has become the custodian of business data, ensuring it flows smoothly from point A to point B, this needs to transition as data evolves within businesses.  The CIO needs to collaborate with the CDO to manage a data strategy underpinned by governance that delivers the right data into the right hands to drive business transformation.

Data has become integral to an organisation and needs to be a separate strategic function with its own ‘system of record’; as HR, marketing, finance and sales does. Data governance needs to emerge as a separate entity within the business that helps the organisation better maintain its data inventory, facilitate the use of data, improve data quality and exercise control over processes and methods employed by all data users across the business.  This shift in mindset towards data will help the CIO drive innovation for competitive advantage.

Solely knowing where data is located is insufficient, it needs governance too. The amount, variety and scope of business data available is growing exponentially making it increasingly difficult to find, understand and trust, despite this being essential to deriving value from it.  Having systems in place – like a governed data catalogue – enables users to understand data in business terms, while also establishing relationships and associations between data sets.  This delivers greater insight and trust in the data, especially when applied to analytics, IoT, AI and ML.

Collaboration within the business around data is critical for organisations using their data as a corporate asset.  All business users need to know where to find the right data and have a common understanding of what the data means so that they can trust it and put the data to use. 

Not all digital transformations were created equal

Organisations across the world are attempting to digitally transform, or indeed claiming that they have digitally transformed, but this phrase is subjective.  What digital transformation is to one company might not be the same to another, not least because all come from a different starting point.  Think of the difference between a digital native company such as Google, for example, compared to a legacy player, the reality of digital transformation to these two types of company is likely to be very different.

Consequently, organisations must understand what they are trying to achieve from digital transformation and how it makes a difference in their industry, to their competitive advantage. They must then work this back to the technologies which enable that digital transformation, and the data that fuels the technologies.  Creating a strategy around data, will be pivotal to a successful digital transformation.

Jeff Burk, SVP, Engineering, Collibra
Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software