Business epiphanies make cost of data discovery worth it, CIOs say

Much like precious metals, data needs to be mined in order to discover its real value, and when left ungoverned that valued can get stripped.

That was the analogy shared by a mining company’s director of IT, and one that summed up the CanadianCIO Executive Roundtable “Your data deserves better,” held May 12 in Toronto. ITWC hosted the professional discussion and collaborated with sponsor Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).

CIOs discussed storage reduction and redundant information, the context that drives trends, governance models, and the ever-increasing need for security. The discussion drew interest from senior IT executives from Canada’s health care, mining, real estate and investment organizations.

Participants talked about the challenge of making use of the massive amounts of data being gathered, and how it was essential to their company’s growth, and in some cases survival.

“In the past couple of years, data has become strategic … It’s a cultural thing as much as anything else,” said session moderator, ITWC CIO Jim Love. “You don’t get the strategic value of data until you use it to get a business result.”

Companies may feel uncertain about how to manage their data at first, but that can often be turned around once its value can be demonstrated to managers. There’s a sense of awe when managers understand what they can do with analysis, and when data architects and data scientists are brought on board to help eliminate redundancies.

“There’s still too much old-school thinking that your computer can’t tell you anything,” one real estate CIO said. “We need to get smart about using data to make better decisions.”

Consistent habits, consistent data

One attempt to improve the use of data is to quickly identify inaccurate data and nip it in the bud. The initial data capture phase has proven a problem in the transportation and healthcare industries. A CIO who works in long-term health care pointed out that their employees don’t trust the data enough to input their own.

It’s a vicious cycle, Love said. If people don’t see the value and the reason for managing data, they won’t do it.

Another dilemma is the management of data — what to delete and what to keep. There are risks in both decisions, especially when the deletion of emails includes third-party attachments.

“Information is truly king,” said one vice president of information management. “We’re getting more of it, whether it’s Exchange servers or Sharepoints or SQL or file shares. The sources are everywhere.”

Ergo the need for a data architect, a practitioner who is concerned with creating, deploying and managing a company’s data.

That’s something that Love had seen in industry practices, but the structure has long since been discarded due to more information coming in, especially after a company buys another company out.

“We lost control of the architecture long ago,” he said. “I used to be able to tell what the structure was. It comes back to the question, does anybody have a data classification?”

One healthcare CIO acknowledged they had hired on a data architect to go through the new data and optimize storage.

Visualization key to understanding

Another key point raised by the executives was that visualization helps in uncovering the value in data. More than one person shared an anecdote about how showing the data through visual means elicited epiphanies from colleagues.

“When you start to expose people to the data, in a relevant way, the lightbulbs that go off with people are significant,” said HPE’s chief field technologist, Greg Clark. “We look at it downstream, and we surface analytics in a context to a business situation it drives greater business and operational efficiencies.”

Put your ego aside

A few additional tips included losing the ego. Some executives got a better response from their boards when someone under their direction presented the ideas. One of the best vehicles was to pique emotional attachments by management.

Finally, the advice to vendors from those gathered? Cut out the buzzwords and know what the businesses want.

After all, as the mining industry CIO understood with the precious metals analogy, there are costs to extracting those gems of information for the business, but it’s the only way to derive the value.



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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Baker
Brian Baker
Brian Baker is a Toronto-based journalist that has written for the Town Crier, Vaughan Today, Urban Male Magazine, and Sun Media. He enjoys photography, playing tennis, and mythology.

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