Data used to just a business bi-product, something that happened incidentally in the course of the day, but now its true value is being realized. Data is having its day, and those that have a grip on it are along for the ride.

“It’s a great time to be a CIO,” proclaimed Kevin Fleet, vice-president of professional service at Informatica. “The stuff we care about is finally relevant to the business.”

At ITWC’s Digital Transformation Awards event on June 14, Fleet recalled a recent half-day work session for the executives at the cloud vendor to discuss data strategy. That just wouldn’t have happened five years ago.

“We’re finally at the forefront of the discussion now and we need to take advantage of it,” he said.

Fleet discussed the new importance of data to the enterprise on stage alongside Victor Dudemaine, assistant vice-president of data and business intelligence services, Sun Life Financial. Both agreed that data’s value is being recognized at the executive level. They also advised that data needs to be properly managed and governed as a result of that newfound value.

At Sun Life, the CEO set out a four-quadrant vision for the company’s strategy. Two of those quadrants are digital, and digital and analytics.

“It’s so important to be able to measure the business outcome of what you’re trying to do,” Dudemaine says. “Right now the expectation is so high that it’s almost impossible to hit.”

Every business unit should be looking at the data it has available to it to improve processes and services, he added. For the IT department, that might mean predicting when a storage device will fail and replacing it well ahead of time. For marketing, the conversion lift of taking one action versus not taking it could be isolated out. It all comes back to measurement.

“That’s the trick,” Dudemaine says. “It’s going up with IT, the executives, and marketing as a three-legged race and saying this is what we’re going to invest in together and how we’re going to finish.”

Imagery of the company summer picnic aside, Fleet agrees investments in technology must be shaped around business outcomes. Firms can get started by placing a value on their data, so it’s possible to calculate ROI for data-driven projects.

That sort of calculation will help overcome the challenge of communicating results to the business.

“It was almost impossible for me to make that next technology investment before,” he says. “I wasn’t talking in business terms about how it affects the balance sheet.”

If you can’t clearly articulate the value of a project in business terms, it won’t get traction in the organization. Fleet learned that he needed his own internal marketing team to help communicate what was being delivered for the business in a way everyone could understand.

Dudemaine takes that concept even further. Firms should consider appointing a chief data officer, he says. Someone at the top level that’s looking at data projects and articulating to the lines of business why they’re important, and why they take time.