Business, know thyself

Robert Hillard has a simple formula to determine which business units are underperforming.

“When you have a section of the business that has isolated information, it is a very strong indication that you have got an underperforming business unit,” says Hillard, who is national leader technology consulting at Deloitte.

Hillard is the author of Information Driven-Business, and whose job entails working with a range of enterprises on how to manage their most valuable resource — information.

Hillard argues information is important in defining business strategy, not technology.

As he writes in his book, “With little differentiation in the bricks-and mortar assets, business needs to enhance its service and differentiate using the informational resources at its disposal … Successful leaders have a deep insight into the running of their business. Such an insight can come only from accurate information.”

Questions that businesses need to answer, he says, include: “How do I govern information? How do I exploit it? What are some of the techniques I can use to technically manage it?

He points out, “One of the toughest jobs of the CIO is to try and convince their business colleagues that they actually can’t abdicate complex information entirely to IT, and be surprised when they don’t get the information they need when they need it, in the way they need it.”

One issue that frustrates him when he talks to business strategists and products managers across companies is this: “They rant and rave about the fact that IT have done a bad job of giving them the information they need. They realise how important the data is and then [you ask them] how do you store this most important asset? Well, it is stored in the database. Have you looked at the data model? They say ‘no’.

“You can’t have a situation where a 25-year-old, a few years out of university, is the only person who is actually making the decision how the data is structured and stored when data is one of the most important assets.”

There has to be a CIO who is acting as an advocate to bringing these metrics to the attention of the business executives, he says.

Quite often, the challenge is to make sure the CIO has permission within the organisation to have those conversations he says. “But I think it is actually something that CIOs need to insist on — securing that permission can be a long battle.”

Hillard underscores the importance of CIOs to stay up to date with the way information management is going “because it has changed and it will continue to change as well”.

“I still find CIOs who perhaps have memories of 1990s techniques of handling information, he says. “They assume that they can understand through an internally evolved experience how to manage information when the profession has done a lot of work to come out with standardised terminology.” Hillard is referring to the work of MIKE2.0 (, a global project by information management practitioners of which he was a founder.

“We are getting cloud, software as a services capability coming out,” he says. “For all the positive value they can provide, there is a real risk that you will end up [losing] control of the way data is stored and you will end up in information silos.

“The CIO needs to insist on ensuring whatever strategy they have to leverage the cloud or similar technologies, that they are ensuring the use of open interchangeable information standards.”

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