How can a business define—and leverage—the value of its data? How do they turn that data into a strategic roadmap? Where do you begin to identify opportunities for leveraging data? It was questions such as these that brought twenty CIOs and IT professionals directly involved in data analytics together recently for a roundtable discussion sponsored by Informatica. The IT leaders shared their frustrations, their fixes, and made predictions about the future of data as a business enabler.

Data is king

If there was one thing the participants agreed on, it was the importance of data. Jim Love, CIO at ITWC, explained it best: “Data is a critical asset; we all know this. Anyone who doesn’t realize this is crazy. As a CIO you can be late on delivering a project, and even over budget, and there’s still a good chance you’ll receive your bonus. But lose company data? You’ll be filling out your resignation. And you’ll be writing it with a crayon because they’ll take your laptop along with every last piece of technology you own.”

Everyone has lots of data, but only a few know how to leverage it to drive business

The role of the CIO is shifting, and so is its value. Many participants expressed that their corporate leadership has had a growing interest in data over the last five years. But as one participant remarked, what they’re looking for isn’t the numbers: “People may come to you thinking they want information about data, but what they really want is the answers the data can provide. To accomplish this, CIOs and technical executives need to understand the business outcomes of data, and form a strategic vision accordingly.”

As the conversation continued, it became clear that many companies are struggling to turn their data into impactful decision-making tools. One IT professional with a transportation organization remarked, “we capture hundreds of terabytes worth of data through IoT devices monitoring various transportation services. We should be able to use these devices to better predict trip times, understand when trains are likely to require maintenance, and even prevent suicide. We have the data, but we cannot act on it.”

Measuring the qualitative: Making the numbers about your customers (or patients)

While it was clear that some of the participants were still struggling to produce business outcomes from data, others had already found success. A particularly salient example was given by a CIO in the healthcare space. At his hospital, they have begun to survey patients upon discharge to collect data on their level of satisfaction with the treatment they received. This illustrates a critical sticking point that came up over the evening: the ability to derive quantitative data from a qualitative experience, and vice-versa. As one participant put it, “The ability to translate human experience into quantitative data, and then turn that experience into a new, qualitative result, is the next challenge when it comes to driving business outcomes with data.”

Fostering a culture of data-driven experimentation

One of the predominant themes throughout the night was the need for a change in culture. It is not just the IT professional’s role that is shifting; everyone in a leadership position needs to adjust in order to accommodate a data-driven mindset as a business enabler.

This shift needs to begin with the IT professional. One participant offered a starting point: “Sit there; shut up; listen.”

This advice stems from the trend of leadership beginning to look to IT for business solutions, as discussed earlier. Rather than attempting to discover problems to solve or systems to upgrade, many of the participants are finding that listening to, and addressing, the business problems presented by leadership is the best course of action.

The key next step, of course, is to provide a data-driven business solution. For most organizations, this means fostering a culture of experimentation. Jim summarizes the point: “When it comes to data, organizations are still on a journey of investigation. Experimentation, trial and error and discovery of what we don’t know are key to producing business results with data.”

To begin fostering a cultural shift, companies need to understand the advantages and disadvantages of structured versus unstructured data, shifting perspective from only measuring outcomes to quantifying all aspects of the customer journey. Organizations also need to transform the way they define governance. A comment from Jitesh Ghai, a senior vice-president and general manager at Informatica, illuminates this last point: “Governance is how we build trust in the data. We need to have processes. But we must also allow for experimentation and discovery. It’s about having a common language so we know what we are talking about.”



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