Data the key business asset in a digitally disruptive world
Digital disruption is cutting through most industries, business models and underlying processes. It reduces the barrier to entry and the cost of doing business for new entrants, making it hard for traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses to compete.
Data is the life blood that connects all business cogs and flows through the business to manage supply and demand, discover change and make timely adjustment.
We chatted to Dr Alex Rummel about his upcoming presentation at the ITWeb Digital Economy Summit at the Focus Rooms, Sunninghill on 8 and 9 November 2017.
ITWeb Events: Can you tell us a little bit more about the role data is playing in a digital business environment?
Dr Rummel: Data is the life blood of the digital economy. It is used to identify and qualify opportunities, it serves as the foundation to justify investment and effort in a digital service, select tools that provide the right capabilities at the right price point. Furthermore, data is also used to monitor progress, identify the need to change and timing thereof as well as select the right adjustments.
ITWeb Events: You are a thought leader when it comes to data and have played an influential role in this space - what would you say are your three lessons learnt as you have taken this journey to digital?
Dr Rummel: Everyone is doing something. Companies often don't know where to start or what is important. As a result, they often either under- or over invest in data. For example, currently there is hardly any corporate that doesn't invest in digital transformation. This generally involves heavy, long-cycle projects and big infrastructure instead of small increments that prove value, provide measurable return and motivates the next increment.
Tech goes ahead of vision. Companies often choose products and solutions ahead of a detailed use-case leading to a high-level of business frustration and unnecessary effort and financial wastage.
Re-use over replace. Taking a company to the digital age often needs more of the following: clever design and approach; and less new tech. Seventy percent to 80% of the required processes and infrastructure components are often already in the building and don't need immediate replacement.
ITWeb Events: What role are you playing in South Africa's digital transformation? What would you say are the key questions you get asked when putting forward your ideas to the board and/or clients?
Dr Rummel: Experience and insight are key to getting digital transformation right. One of the big jobs is to take the hype out of big data, digital, mobile and AI and bring it back to reality. We need to do this in order to ensure that business understands what they can have instead of selling them a pipe dream that will never materialise, and can be extremely costly.
Having dealt with many boards across various sectors, the key questions on digital transformation are:
- Can we actually transform successfully i.e. is this even possible given our legacy?;
- How much heavy lifting is needed to get us into the digital age, i.e. how much budget, time and effort is required?; and
- Is there a way to get there sooner, i.e. is there a short-cut?
An observation is that many companies start a conversation by saying: "We are busy putting the necessary infrastructure and people in place and will talk about design and roll-out when we're finished", which is unfortunately the wrong way around.
ITWeb Events: What would you say are the trends in SA concerning digital transformation?
- Services are increasingly consumed on mobile devices, i.e. digital data and services need to be designed mobile-ready.
- Companies are increasingly realising that their internal and external data is key to understanding current success, learning from it and growing in the future.
- Companies are starting to evaluate if and where AI can assist, although it is currently one of the over-hyped areas.
- Cloud layers and solutions are finally being considered as real options to form the foundation or at least as an integral part of a solution to obtain better leverage on cost and scale.
- Businesses are increasingly realising that the cost of business and financial risk can be reduced by renting products and services through monthly/annual subscriptions rather than buying big expensive products upfront.
ITWeb Events: Who drives/who should drive the transformation process in an organisation and why?
Dr Rummel: Digital transformation in reality is often owned by IT and is just stamped by the MD/CEO. Some companies have started implementing the chief data officer role, which in my opinion still doesn't change enough in terms of ownership and execution. Business needs to drive transformation, but it needs to start with a vision into the future, matched to reality and split into realistic increments that warrant the investment and can be confirmed along the journey that it is worthwhile. The vision cannot be completed in the beginning and during the transformation by a single role, but needs to be based rather on an on-going collaboration between all business areas including product, services, finance, customer care, sales and marketing. Each of the mentioned areas experiences change continuously, but some feel it more at times due to internal and external factors such as new tech, change in client up-take, regulations etc.
ITWeb Events: Why did you say yes to presenting at the upcoming Digital Economy Summit? What is it that you bring to the table and what do you want attendees to take away with them after your presentation?
Dr Rummel: I have been involved in many digital transformation projects over the last 20 years across big data, mobile, machine learning and analytics. It is important to be able to share the experience and the learning curves to help companies realise value from their efforts.
Given the increasing maturity and availability of tech today, there is much value to be had from digital but it needs to be linked to realistic business expectations and less to hype and over-selling of capabilities. With the economic pressure worldwide, budgets are much more tightly controlled and companies are starting to appreciate partners above vendors, where those can assist with ongoing strategy, innovation, complementary products (when needed), services and support and even customer uptake.
As Slipstream and Digital Pathways we have much experience in assisting businesses in planning for a realistic future, helping them to avoid pitfalls and cul-de-sacs and, more importantly, realising value quickly. The reality is that very few companies are focused on the long-term value for their clients but rather focus on their own efficiencies. What is needed is a more complete value-stack - from formulating the vision, breaking it down into sizable chunks, implementation, support and training, on-going innovation - this is exactly what we offer, a long-term partnership.
ITWeb Events: What are the key takeaways for businesses that are working on data and digital transformation?
Dr Rummel: Organisations should transform only pieces that either help the business in terms of time and money, or pieces that add value to the client in a proven way.
Data belongs to the business and not to IT. IT just brings it together and needs to provide it in a clean and curated way. Data as a business asset needs to be owned by business. The same applies to related analytics and insights.
The rate of change is continuously increasing and affects everything, i.e. whatever a company is implementing through digital transformation needs to be layered such that components and layers can be replaced without having to re-design and re-implement everything.
Businesses typically work on CRM and 360-view of the customer initiatives. The reality is that, at best they are building a good "closet view" on their customers, as internal data does not cover the client holistically across all interests and aspirations.