Data is an inherent feature of technology-enabled business models, products and services and it is also an increasingly valuable asset. Every digital interaction generates data that can be used to understand, analyse and refine the activity, process, or offering through which it was generated. An organisation that embraces digital can generate vast quantities of data about its own business and how it operates, as well about its customers, their behaviours, preferences and how they use the organisation's products and services. And it can also access data generated by partners, suppliers, social networks and a variety of other sources.
But just like any other asset, data needs to be put to work in order to release the value it holds. Data is only valuable if it can be transformed into information or insights that lead to actions and outcomes that create value for either the organisation itself or for its partners, suppliers or customers.
Digital markets move quickly so it follows that organisations that can quickly turn data into insights are more likely to succeed. Companies that can provide the right data to the right person at the right time have a genuine advantage over those that do not have this capability. Internally this means they are able to see trends, identify opportunities and spot issues as they happen. They can make better and quicker decisions based on accurate and up-to-date information and respond accordingly to optimise operations.
It also means they can monitor how their products and services are performing in real-time and make adjustments to features or content, and they can respond quickly to changes in customer behaviour and preferences by creating tailored offers, personalised features or dynamic pricing. Data on product performance and customer behaviour can also be used to design new offerings and the data itself can be monetised if it is of value to other parties and can be made available to them in a cost-effective and efficient way to create a new revenue stream.
With such large volumes of data available from a wide range of sources the potential for creating insights and value throughout the organisation and beyond is significant. The successful players in digital markets will be those businesses that can maximise the return on this valuable asset.
But providing the right data to the right person at the right time does not happen by accident; systems have to integrate, be secure and resilient, and data needs to be structured correctly and have integrity. The collection, organisation, storage, security and availability of data cannot be left to chance. These activities have to be owned, co-ordinated and managed to ensure the joined-up approach that is necessary to maximise the value of the organisation's data assets. All this represents a significant opportunity for CIOs - or at least those CIOs that get data and understand how it can be used to create insights, drive decisions and, ultimately, create value for the organisation.
However, for much of the last 20-30 years the CIO role has been focused on building, maintaining, and supporting the technology used by their organisations. In other words they have focused on the infrastructure and systems that generate and store information and not on extracting value from that information. In many cases they had no choice, as building and maintaining technology was the only way of meeting the needs of the business. But this focus left little time for them to get involved in other areas of the business and it has also led to a bias in the skills and experience of many CIOs and indeed of the perception of the role held by other executives. As a result, many of today's IT leaders do not have the capabilities required to lead their organisation's digital transformation or drive the use of data while others are just not interested. And even for those that can and want to lead on digital and data, they may not get the chance as their role and skillset are viewed as being technically focused.
This bias in the CIO role has led to a gap that many organisations have filled with the Chief Digital Officer role and more recently we have seen the emergence of the Chief Data Officer. But much of what both CDO roles are tasked with doing should actually fall within the remit of the CIO role, or at least it would do if the CIO had the time, skills and desire to take on areas such as digital transformation, using technology to enable new revenue streams and driving the use of data.
This comes back to one of the recurring themes of this column: the way businesses are using technology is changing and the role of the CIO also has to change if it is to remain relevant in the digital world. The CIO needs to move away from the detail of technology and focus more on how that technology is used to create value for the organisation. And data is a key aspect of this.
Data is a valuable asset. To truly maximise the value of this data requires a business to be capable of responding quickly to the insights it generates. Digital creates a continual flow of information from a range of sources such as websites, apps, sensors, partners, etc. The quicker an organisation can process and analyse these flows and use them to identify actions, the more value it will extract. Who better to take the lead on this than the organisation's Chief Information Officer?
Digital is an opportunity for CIOs to get back to focusing on the 'I' in their job title. But just how many of today's IT leaders have the skills and desire to capitalise on this opportunity is another matter.