Data: The Key to Powering the Age of Enlightenment

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Click to learn more about author Piet Loubser.

Industry pundits are calling our current age the “post-digital era.” Accenture outlines some interesting thoughts on the subject – most importantly, that engaging in digital today is nothing more than table-stakes in order to do business. Never before has it been so critical to apply digital technologies in new ways to drive innovation and differentiation. This Forbes article takes it a step further and suggests that the future is about the “self-driving enterprise” and offers a number of examples of what this should look like such as: “I predict a competitor stock-out for the Logo product in Germany.” Pretty cool, except, how many organizations are close to accomplishing this – especially at enterprise scale?

At the heart of the self-driving enterprise will be an organization that has established data, analytics, and artificial intelligence as an end-to-end core competency. And they have done it in such a way that is both faster than their peers and without outrageous resource impacts.

In my view, there are two concepts colliding to establish this enterprise-wide competency that will be fundamental to every aspect of our desired business outcomes in this new age:

Concept #1: Analytics Maturity

We have been on this analytics journey for many decades and I believe it is pretty well understood. Gartner proposes an analytics maturity model that progresses from Descriptive to Diagnostic to Predictive to Prescriptive. This evolution maps pretty well to a potential maturity journey from traditional operational reporting to our current world of AI and machine learning that are taking decision-making much closer to the automated realm. Most analytics leaders will think of mapping themselves on a journey like this and can identify where they are in the process, but the truth is that some functions in your organization will be further along towards Prescriptive while other parts of the organization might just be getting started with Descriptive analytics. As suggested earlier, the challenge towards becoming a self-driving enterprise would be to get everyone, every process, every application to the Prescriptive or AI-powered maturity level.

Concept #2: Putting Business Users in the Driver’s Seat

The second paradigm shift taking place  involves the consumerization of every aspect of our technology landscape. What this means is that we are moving from a world where everything technology related was carefully designed and engineered by highly-skilled developers working in your internal IT department towards a world where business users now have the ability to acquire technology and in many case use that technology themselves without the assistance from IT. Gartner speaks often of “bi-modal IT models” where mode 1 is our traditional highly-designed systems operated by IT and mode 2 the agile, self-service world of systems of differentiation and insights. In most organizations the world of mode 2 is swallowing up more and more of the traditional mode 1 systems. Once again, the key here is to not just empower a handful of data scientists but to put this on an enterprise-scale path to power everyone.

Considerations for Thriving in The Age of Enlightenment

When evaluating the state of the union as it relates to your own organization’s journey, be sure to keep these important considerations in mind:

  • Bad data is the silent killer: In the world of omni-cloud strategies, with best of breed apps and data everywhere (i.e. data on AWS, Azure and Google, eco-system data, IoT data), you have to build a data fabric that can help you find, shape, and prepare data at enterprise scale – from all of these data sources. And remember our earlier conversation about self-service and making sure it can be done by the business because they have the context!
  • Change the ship’s direction from the helm: Leadership is everything when it comes to changing your decision-making processes and fabrics that support this. Appoint executive-level ambassadors to drive and own this journey but remember that as the leader of the org you will need to have your hands on this wheel in order to change processes and culture at the same time.
  • Start with what will change outcomes and not just small meaningless projects: We often hear folks say start small, iterate fast, and repeat. That is sound advice to an extent but I would argue to start with things that will alter the trajectory of your business. Don’t start with a project to predict the time the mailman will deliver the morning paper to the office. Rather, concentrate on how to change customer experiences, improve sales, or speed product delivery to market. A WSJ article goes as far as suggesting a project should focus on revenue generation and not on cutting costs or improving efficiencies.

Own Your Intelligence Destiny

Owning your destiny means you must also own your intelligence when looking to build an enduring company that can compete and fend off vigorous competition. Do not abandon your intelligence – those unique things your business knows about your customers that no one else knows and should know. SAP has made billions from standardizing business processes – great! But that also means if you and your peers all use SAP you are at the table-stakes level again. You are not differentiating because you have SAP.

In a post -digital era you need to take back control of what makes you unique and build that into a lasting differentiated reason of why a buyer would prefer you over a competitor.

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