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The Business Case for Better Data Connectivity

andyAfter I graduated from business school, I started reading Fortune Magazine. I guess that I became a regular reader because each issue largely consists of a set of mini-business cases. And over the years, I have even started to read the witty remarks from the managing editor, Andy Serwer. However, this issue’s comments were even more evocative than usual.

Connectivity is perhaps the biggest opportunity of our time

Andy wrote, “Connectivity is perhaps the biggest opportunity of our time. As technology makes the world smaller, it is clear that the countries and companies that connect the best—either in terms of, say traditional infrastructure or through digital networks are in the drivers’ seat”. Andy sees differentiated connectivity as involving two elements–access and content. This is important to note because Andy believes the biggest winners going forward are going to be the best connectors to each.

Enterprises need to evaluate how the collect, refine, and make useful data

But how do enterprises establish world class connectivity to content? I would argue–whether you are talking about large or small data—it comes from improving an data connectivityenterprise’s abiity collect, refine, and create useful data. In recent CFO research, the importance of enterprise data gathering capabilities was stressed. CFOs said that their enterprises need to “get data right” at the same time as they confirmed that their enterprises in fact have a data issue. The CFOs said that they are worried about the integrity of data from the source forward. And once they manually create clean data, they worry about making this data useful to their enterprises. Why does this data matter so much to the CFO? Because as CFOs get more strategic, they are trying to make sure their firms drive synergies across their businesses.

Business need to make sense of data and get it to business users faster

One CFO said it this way, “data is potentially the only competitive advantage left”. Yet another said, “our businesses needs to make better decisions from data. We need to make sense of data faster.” At the same time leading edge thinkers like Geoffrey Moore has been mooresuggesting that businesses need to move from “systems of record” applications to “system of engagement” applications. This notion suggests the importance of providing more digestible apps, but also the importance of recognizing that the most important apps for business users will provide relevant information for decision making. Put another way, data is clearly becoming fuel to the enterprise decision making.

“Data Fueled Apps” will provide a connectivity advantage

For this reason, “data fueled” apps will be increasingly important to the business. Decision makers these days want to practice “management by walking around” to quote Tom Walking aroundPeter’s Book, “In Search of Excellence”. And this means having critical, fresh data at their fingertips for each and every meeting. And clearly, organizations that provide this type of data connectivity will establish the connectivity advantage that Serwer suggested in his editor comments. This of course applies to consumer facing apps as well. Server, also, comments on the impacts of Apple and Facebook. Most consumers today are far better informed before they make a purchase.  The customer facing apps, for example Amazon, that have led the way have provided the relevant information for the consumer to inform them on their purchase journey.

Delivering “Data Fueled Apps” to the Enterprise

But how do you create the enterprise wide connectivity to power the “Data Fueled Apps?”  It is clear from the CFOs comments work is needed here. That work involves creating data which is systematically clean, safe, and connected. Why does this data need to be clean? The CFOs we talked to said that when the data is not clean then they have to manually massage the data and then move from system to system. This is not providing the kind of system of engagement envisioned by Geoffrey Moore. What this CFO wants to move to a world where he can access the numbers easily, timely, and accurately”.

Data, also, needs to be safe. This means that only people with access should be able to see data whether we are talking about transactional or analytical data. This may sound obvious, but very few isolate and secure data as it moves from system to system. And lastly, data needs to be connected. Yet another CFO said, “the integration of the right systems to provide the right information needs to be done so we have the right information to manage and make decisions at the right time”. He continued by saying “we really care about technology integration and getting it less manual. It means that we can inspect the books half way through the cycle. And getting less manual means we can close the books even faster. However, if systems don’t talk (connect) to one another, it is a big issue”.

Finally, whether we are discussing big data or small data, we need to make sure the data collected is more relevant and easier to consume.  What is needed here is a data intelligence layer provides easy ways to locate useful data and recommend or guide ways to improve the data. This way analysts and leaders can spend less time on searching or preparing data and more time on analyzing the data to connect the business dots. This can involve mapping data relationship across all applications and being able to draw inferences from data to drive real time responses.

So in this new connected world, we need to first set up a data infrastructure to continuously make data clean, safe, and connected regardless of use case. It might not be needed to collect data, but the data infrastructure may be needed to define the connectivity (in the shape of access and content). We also need to make sure that the infrastructure for doing this is reusable so that the time from concept to new data fueled app is minimized. And then to drive informational meaning, we need to layer on top the intelligence. With this, we can deliver “data fueled apps” that enable business users the access and content to drive better business differentiation and decisioning!

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