As the economy becomes increasingly digitised, the pace continues to accelerate as organisations adopt new digital transformation strategies. The term ‘digital transformation’ has become well established as the new business frontier to be conquered. It’s the quantifiable difference between an organisation that is stuck in the past and in decline and one that is racing ahead to embrace the future. It’s the difference between an organisation which is hanging on to the status quo, and one which seeks to innovative, excite and optimise.
There’s a myriad of iterations of digital transformation, with organisations of different sizes and in different sectors approaching it differently. Yet, at the heart of any digital transformation project is the same principle – getting access to data and managing that data effectively. Understanding and harnessing data enables organisations to automate processes, to generate and apply new business insights, and optimise their operations – all desirable outcomes of digital transformation initiatives.
Daunting prospect or transformational opportunity?
However, this data management is often easier said than done. In many organisations, information is still stored in silos, with different datasets ring-fenced from each other and in different formats, making any attempt at consolidation a long and complex one. As any business analyst will tell you, they spend more time frustratingly finding and fixing the data they need, than they do actually working on it and delivering insights.
This acts as a powerful brake on productivity and financial success – it’s like our economy is driving forward with the handbrake on. It prevents key stakeholders from being able to access data from outside their own domain, meaning disparate datasets cannot be unified, so that they may shed light on the real problem being faced or reveal a new business opportunity that would otherwise remain undiscovered or impossible to deliver. It is without doubt, that the movement, transformation and understanding of data - and not the underlying technology - will be the single biggest economic driver for many decades to come.
A new economic reality
If data is the real economic driver of the 21st Century, then that data needs to be set free, so it becomes highly visible and accessible, in easy-to-use formats and ‘joinable’ with other data from internal or external sources. An expensive and lengthy digital transformation programme is not always essential to achieve this, although it can have clear benefits.
So what is the first step for organisations still dealing with data silos? The common response is to assume that a major IT infrastructure change is needed. This might involve creating consolidated data storage from different parts of the organisation, such as a data warehouse, data lake data vault etc. This will also likely involve reviewing the organisation’s overall cloud strategy so that applications and their data are constantly available in all departments and locations. For an organisation at a particular stage in its enterprise IT evolution, with the time, budget and motivations to undertake such a project, something on this scale might be a good choice, generating far-reaching benefits. However, the danger is that all it will do is deliver newer and more impressively shiny silos, without dealing with the fundamental issues.
Changing how we work
True digital transformation requires a new way of looking beyond the technology and instead, understanding how data flows within and outside of an organisation. Adopting a data management strategy, one that respects the existing cultural and technical environments, and creates a roadmap for where they both need to go, is fundamental to success. Digital transformation is, after all, a business change endeavour, and so requires people and processes to adapt with it.
It presents a very real opportunity for organisations to start adopting new ways of thinking and working, that are collaborative and far more productive than our economy of today. This is how the innovations of the future that will enhance our lives will be created and go way beyond simple IT infrastructure investment considerations. In fact, in many instances, great strides can be made with minimal spend by leveraging legacy IT systems and joining them together so that their data can flow without restriction.
For younger or smaller organisations, a major IT infrastructure overhaul is unlikely and would be overkill. Such projects are a costly and time-consuming distraction to any business. Moreover, organisational data may still remain inaccessible at the project’s end, particularly for stakeholders without advanced IT skills.
iPaaS – the answer to agile IT modernisation
An alternative approach involves layering something rather more agile and cost-effective over the top of an existing IT estate. Taking a step backwards and considering the controls which actually extract, filter, manipulate and consolidate data focuses our attention on APIs. Typically, in any siloed organisational structure, each IT system or application will have its own specific API, the interface through which stakeholders access and harness the underlying data.
This is the model at the heart of iPaaS technology. It enables organisations, no matter what their scope, size or industry, to develop a single holistic and intuitive view of all their data and, crucially, to actively harness that data to make tangible business decisions. Even individuals without advanced or specialist technical skills – such as knowledge workers, business unit heads, product managers, and of course business analysts – are able to access and visualise data from across the entire organisation. And because the data can be virtualised, it doesn’t have to physically leave its original source, avoiding complex and expensive data storage architectures.
Increasing productivity and innovation through APIs
APIs are the glue that connect the digital world and are essential for organisations to deliver on their digital transformation goals, but the benefits don’t stop there. APIs allow businesses of all sizes to innovate at the speed of market leaders, as well as increase productivity and agility. Companies that leverage APIs are much more likely to empower their teams to self-serve. The outcome of these enhanced capabilities results in a business with better connected and integrated departments, and this translates into significant gains in financial performance.
Digital transformation can sound like a complicated or fluid concept, but its engines are very simple. Empower stakeholders from across your organisation to access data from all other parts of the organisation, in a format that they can intuitively harness and combine with other data sources. Ensure that they can truly ‘self-serve’, with as much mobility and agility as possible. From there, the possibilities for organisational transformation and radical innovation are endless.
Martino Corbelli, Chief Product Officer, SPINR
Image Credit: Konica Minolta Business Solutions UK