Creating a robust data foundation for digital transformation

By Peter Ruffley, CEO, Zizo.

How many digital transformation strategies will ever extend beyond the boardroom? What, in effect, do they really entail? Digital transformation is being merged with the Internet of Things (IoT), Machine Learning, even Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create an unmanageable, unfocused concept of ‘doing things better’ without addressing the fundamental, underpinning essence of that change – the data.

With so many innovative technologies coming to the fore, it is easy to get distracted; but organisations need to focus on the core objectives – what is the point of increasing the amount of data collected if the business does not have complete trust in that data? Why make data look visually appealing if people still won’t use it to automate processes and decision making? If individuals are not prepared to accept that data resources enable better decision making than intuition, a business cannot be digitally transformed – however much it has expanded its connection with customers, suppliers and partners.

Data transformation should be a key part of any company strategy, not only a key element of digital transformation. Whereas digital transformation reflects the change that is impacted across the entire business through new technologies and approaches, data transformation reflects the changes that should be made across the business using data – whether that data is found internally to the business or externally across industries or in the wider population. Data is changing everything that we do as human beings; how we interact with each other, our governments and those we choose to do business with. As such, it is now vital that organisations use data to learn more about their customers, their own products and their competition to stay in the game. 

Right now, while digital transformation may be a board-level objective, when it comes to strategy or roadmap, there are some concerning signs. On the one hand, organisations are investing in new ways to capture data, such as connected devices. On the other, they are embracing exciting visualisation tools, such as exploding pie charts and genomic analytics. Spot the gap? Where is the underpinning data structure? Where is the essential data trust?

Boards of major corporates still fundamentally do not understand that the data held within their business is as big an asset, if not bigger, as the machines and the factories, and can have a much wider impact on their bottom line than launching a new product or service. The current unicorn businesses such as Uber are so successful because they have simplified the movement of data between two parties. They work so well because they have convinced each party that sharing data with each other enables a simpler, faster transaction. If big corporations thought the same way, imagine what they could do with the wealth of the data they own.  

A cloud-based analytics platform provides the essential data foundation. It creates the building blocks for the cultural change that will define a digitally transformed organisation, an organisation that will have immediate visibility of all data and, critically, implicit trust in that data. While existing applications will continue to perform as usual, the digitally transformed platform will enable organisations to rapidly build new applications that use diverse data resources to drive operational change. And with this data platform in place, organisations can confidently scale and embrace a raft of digital innovation, from AI to cognitive analytics. 

A data-first culture is one that makes decisions based on all the information available to it, using data found within the business. An example of this could be using data to experiment with new business models and new products to drive innovation, but with the ability to share the data across the business to gain further insights, bridging gaps in teams and breaking down silos of data. In order to achieve this idea of ‘data democratisation’, the business must learn to trust the data that is being used. This is where ‘big data’ comes in. By having access to all of the data at a granular level, we are able to remove elements of ‘gut feel’ and the ‘anecdotal’ decision making which many companies still rely on. 

There is no one size fits all, of course; no prescription for a digitally transformed organisation. But by taking a solution-led approach, rather than a nebulous ‘digital’ strategy, organisations can embark upon the transformation journey. Critically, the focus must be on addressing specific business requirements, whether prompted by the need to upgrade a dated system or respond to new operational requirements. By ensuring developments are business-driven, data-led and customer-focused, with the right foundation a business can use its data to make essential change.

Communication, vision and transparency are essential components when undergoing this pivot.  As with anything transformational, there will be areas where people are not willing to embrace change, however, if the reasons for the change and the future effects can be proven and highlighted using the data that we are looking to use, then winning the hearts and minds of the naysayers is possible.

With access to affordable, secure, flexible and scalable cloud-based analytics, the rest of the transformation will take care of itself. Remember that not every idea will be a good one, but no idea is necessarily bad when you back up the reasons why using data. This approach is key to moving forward.

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