Solving common enterprise data challenges takes a collaborative approach

By Catherine Daly

While everyone acknowledges that data is one of their most important assets, few companies are really deriving value from their data.

According to IDC, we’re only using about eight per cent of the data that we generate today. Value doesn’t come from simply accumulating more and more data. We need to use that data to help us make better, faster decisions and give us a competitive advantage. How to do that was the key question discussed at a recent CIO Roundtable hosted by ITWC and sponsored by HPE.

Just one-fifth of CIOs said they have a formal data strategy in place. According to the group, this was due to a number of challenges including getting the business to ask the right questions, ensuring data quality and governance, effectively managing data, and gaining CEO buy-in.

Getting the business to ask the right questions
Business units and users often struggle to get real value from their data. IT teams, on the other hand, can lack insight into the business use cases that would help them justify the allocation of resources to data projects.

One of the ways to build a business case is to look for early wins. Find ways to solve some small problems or produce some insights that can be used in real world situations. When business users see these real world examples, it unlocks the imagination and helps make the case for additional investment.

One CIO from the food and beverage industry took a novel approach to bring these teams together. He recruited people from across his organization to sit in his Business Intelligence (BI) Centre of Excellence. He said, “We’ve now come full circle and we’re redeploying those people back across the organization so the business units can self-serve. They’re now thinking about both the IT and the business perspectives when they approach any new problem.”

To get real value from enterprise data, business teams and IT teams need to work alongside industry partners to achieve true success.

“We need a collaborative effort to address the broad set of data challenges we face today,” said Shane Guidinger, Director, Western Canada at HPE, “We don’t have all the answers but we have lots of partners who can help build out the complete solution, partners who have been through these challenges with many other clients and know how to solve them effectively.”

Ensuring data quality and governance
While the age old question once was, “Who owns the data?” The most pertinent question today may be, “Do the owners of the data really understand it?”

The Director of Data and Analytics at a large building materials enterprise explained how one team started experimenting with data analysis by themselves. She said, “I don’t discourage experimentation but I have concerns about the quality of the data they’re analysing. Do they have the processes and methodologies in place to ensure the quality of their data?”

Experimentation is important but controls are needed, if only to deal with the challenges that incredible data volumes can create. One CIO mentioned a situation where a poorly written query brought production systems to a crawl. Others cautioned about the costs of computing resources in house or in the cloud.

According to IDC, 40 ZB of data were generated globally in 2019, and it’s expected to hit a staggering 175 ZB in 2025. It’s no wonder CIOs are challenged with solving data quality and governance issues.

Effectively managing data
A Gartner report found that only around 10% of enterprise-generated data is created and processed outside of the traditional centralized data centre.

With the growing importance of “edge computing” and the huge number of devices collecting and storing data, the amount of data collected outside the traditional IT infrastructure is growing exponentially. By 2025, Gartner predicts this figure will reach 75 per cent.

“How are CIOs preparing to deal with this new world?” asked Robert Adley, Vice President of Solutions & Technology at HPE. “It’s not realistic to attempt to move all that data back to the data centre. Instead, CIOs need to figure out how to compute and analyse that data effectively, wherever it resides.”

Adley explained how enterprises are looking for the cloud experience. “They want capacity on-demand, finance models like pay-per-use, the ability for dynamic growth, flexibility, agility, and so on. Thankfully, that cloud-like experience is now available outside of the public cloud.”

Gaining CEO buy-in
While it’s possible to have some successes in the field, to truly have the benefits of a data-driven enterprise, CEO championship is critical to guide and sponsor enterprise-level data projects.

Technology conferences and executive field trips can help educate and encourage CEOs to support such initiatives. One CIO mentioned a recent government-led initiative which took a group of Canadian CEOs to Silicon Valley. Their CEO came back with a richer understanding and initiated some key projects as a result of that visit.

Lasting CEO buy-in is ultimately achieved with a solid business case. “Everything we do and every business case we make is centred around the impact it could have on our EBITDA. In the last six months we’ve achieved substantial savings or additional revenue, measured in real dollars, directly related to our data and machine learning projects,” said one CIO.

Real success is possible and can have an impact on the bottom line and the future of our companies — but only if we have a strategy in place and support from the enterprise.

According to Jim Love, CIO of ITWC, “We’re living in a time of accelerated innovation. The next three to five years will be incredible. If you haven’t done the fundamentals with your data yet, there’s no need to panic. But there is a need to get started right now,” he advised.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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