As adjunct university faculty, I get to talk to students about how business strategy increasingly depends upon understanding how to leverage information. To make discussion more concrete, I share with students the work of Alvin Toffler. In The Third Wave, Toffler asserts that we live in a world where competition will increasingly take place upon the currency and usability of information.
In a recent interview, Toffler said that “given the acceleration of change; companies, individuals, and governments base many of their daily decisions on obsoledge—knowledge whose shelf life has expired.” He continues by stating that “companies everywhere are trying to put a price on certain forms of intellectual property. But if…knowledge is at the core of the money economy, than we need to understand knowledge much better than we do now. And tiny insights can yield huge outputs”.
Driving better information management in the information age
To me, this drives to three salient conclusions for information age businesses:
- Information needs to drive further down organizations because top decision makers do not have the background to respond at the pace of change.
- Information needs to be available faster which means that we need to reducing the processing time for structure and unstructured information sources.
- Information needs to be available when the organization is ready for it. For multinational enterprises this means “Always On” 24/7 across multiple time zones on any device.
Effective managers today are effective managers of people and information
Effective managers today are effective managers of information. Because processing may take too much time, Toffler’s remarks suggest to me we need to consider human information—the ideas and communications we share every day—within the mix of getting access to the right information when it is needed and where it is needed. Now more than ever is the time for enterprises to ensure their decision makers have the timely information to make better business decisions when they are relevant. This means that unstructured data, a non-trivial majority of business information, needs to be made available to business users and related to existing structured sources of data.
Derick Abell says that “for (management) control to be effective, data must be timely and provided at interval that allows effective intervention”. Today this is a problem for most information businesses. As I see it, information optimization is the basis of powering the enterprise through “Third Wave” business competition. Organizations that have the “right to win” will have as a core capability better-than-class access to current information for decision makers.
Putting in place a winning information management strategy
If you talk to CIOs today, they will tell you that they are currently facing 4 major information age challenges.
- Mobility—Enabling their users to view data anytime, anyplace, and any device
- Information Trust—Making data dependable enough for business decisions as well as governing data across all business systems.
- Competing on Analytics—Getting information to business users fast enough to avoid Toffler’s Obsoledge.
- New and Big Data Sources—Connecting existing data to new value added sources of data.
Some information age
Lots of things, however, get in the way of delivering on the promises of the Information Age. Our current data architecture is siloed, fragile, and built upon layer after layer of spaghetti code integrations. Think about what is involved just to cobble together data on a company’s supply chain. A morass of structured data systems have vendor and transaction records locked up in application databases and data warehouses all over the extended enterprise. So it is not amazing that enterprises struggle to put together current, relevant data to run their businesses upon. Functions like finance depend largely upon manual extracts being massaged and integrated in spreadsheets because of concern over the quality of data being provided by financial systems. Some information age!
How do we connect to new sources of data?
At the same time, many are trying today to extend the information architecture to add social media data, mobile location data, and even machine data. Much of this data is not put together in the same way as data in an application database or data warehouse. However, being able to relate this data to existing data sources can yield significant benefits. Think about the potential benefit of being able to relate social interactions and mobile location data to sales data or to relate machine data to compliance data.
A big problem is many of these new data types potentially have even more data quality gaps than historical structured data systems. Often the signal to noise for this data can be very low for this reason. But this data can be invaluable to business decision making. For this reason, this data needs to be cleaned up and related to older data sources. Finally, it needs to be provided to business users in whatever manner they want to consume it.
How then do we fix the Information Age?
Enabling the kind of Information Age that Toffler imagined requires two things. Enterprises fix their data management and enable the information intelligence needed to drive real business competitive advantage. Fixing data management involves delivering good data that business users can safely make decisions from. It, also, involves ensuring that data once created is protected. CFOs that we have talked to say Target was a watershed event for them—something that they expect will receive more and more auditing attention.
We need at the same time to build the connection between old data sources and new data sources. And this needs to not take as long as in the past to connect data. Delivery needs to happen faster so business problems can be recognized and solved more quickly. Users need to get access to data when and where they need it.
With data management fixed, data intelligence needs to provide business users the ability to make sense out of things they find in the data. Business users need as well to be able to search and find data. They, also, need self-service so they can combine existing and new unstructured data sources to test data interrelationship hypothesis. This means the ability to assemble data and put it together and do it from different sources at different times. Simply put this is about data orchestration without any preconceived process. And lastly, business users need the intelligence to automatically sense and respond to changes as new data is collecting.
Tiny insights can yield huge outputs
Obviously, there is a cost to solving our information age issues, but it is important to remember what Toffler says. “Tiny insights can yield huge outputs”. In other words, the payoff is huge for shaking off the shackles of our early information age business architecture. And those that do this will increasingly have the “right to win” against their competitors as they use information to wring every last drop of value from their business processes.
Solution Brief: The Intelligent Data Platform
The CIO Challenged
If you ask a CIO today about their challenges, several things would clearly make the list. CIOs that I know personally are feeling a bit of Future Shock. They say that things are changing a lot faster these days than they did in the past. One CIO said to me in exasperation, “things are changing every 18 months”. Given this, I recently sat down with CIOs from several different industries to get their perspectives on how the CIO role is changing and the challenges they feel in their role as CIO. This post will focus upon the latter.
The healthcare CIO participating said that CIOs need to manage four large mega trends simultaneously—mobile, cloud, social, and big data. At the same time in healthcare, they have the added complexity of Meaning Use, ICT 10, and HL7. For these reasons, this CIO worries about keeping the IT lights on while at the same time helping the business to expand. This CIO sees healthcare is clearly entering an era of ubiquitous computing with the iPad becoming the rounding and vitals instrument of choice. This links mobility, integration, and compliance around a standard like HL7. HL7 provides this CIO with a framework for exchanging, integrating, sharing, and retrieving of electronic health information. Like other CIOs that we talked to, our healthcare CIO says he needs to understand his enterprises business better in order to be a better partner.
Our next CIO is from the insurance. He sees CIOs in general being challenged to move from being a builder of stuff to an orchestrator of business services. This CIO sees cloud and loosely oriented partnerships bringing vendor management to the forefront. At the same time, he feels challenged to provide application integration in a service oriented manner. He says that IT organizations need today to orchestrate across IT regardless of device. As well, he believes that IT organizations need to stitch together an IT that is fungible and support service oriented architecture. At the same time, he says that his business users “believe that data is strategic but they need it provided to them in a way that creates predictive capabilities and drives top line revenue”. We and our business customers know that we need to fix our mutual data problems in order to use data better. This CIO said believes that he needs to fix his enterprise’s data hygiene first in order to improve business outcomes.
The Manufacturing CIO participating said that CIOs have an opportunity to create informative analytics and help the business find value. However, this CIO worries that CEOs and CFOs are about to start complaining to their IT organizations that the information garnered from Big Data and Business Intelligence does not really make them more money. He claims, to make more money, IT organizations need to connect the dots between their transactional systems, BI systems, and the planning systems. More specifically, they need to convert insight into action. To do this, the business needs to be enabled to be more proactive and to cut the time it takes to execute. This means that IT needs to enable the enterprise to generate value different than its competitors. This CIO worries, therefore, about IT’s ability to drive flexibility and agility. We need to respond to the rate of change and be able to prototype faster at the same time as we cut the cost of failure. This CIO claims that CIOs needs to more actively manage the information lifecycle even though the business may own the data. Lastly, this CIO says that IT organizations need to be more forward looking. We need to be looking at things cross discipline. We need to be looking for new business insights. We have piles and piles of data from which to draw interesting insights from. How do you connect and create new business insights?
Getting the CFOs to understand that technology is not a cost center was really important to our 4th CIO. We need to get everyone to understand that IT isn’t separate from the business. At the same time, we need to get business leaders to understand technology better. There is a real West Coast vs. East Coast split regarding business technology literacy. We need business leaders to start asking for digital services that support their product and service offerings. And this is all about data. “Think about it. What we do in IT is all about the intake of data, storing data, processing data, and analyzing data. And we need to provide the intelligence to make better decisions. Competing with analytics is what we need to enable. Like an athlete that needs muscles—data needs cleaning, security, mastering, and governance to enable the business to compete with analytics”.
Our broadcast CIO is focused on the explosion of Big Data. “I need to get my management team exposed to Big Data Analysis. I need as well to get the resources to do this well”. We need for example to get the business answers to its questions around customer behavior. From an integration perspective, this CIO said that she needs to get service based technology deployed. At the same time, she said I need to be able to have business apps for my business and consumer users to subscribe. This CIO said that speed to clients from integrated systems is a big issue. We need today to connect everything together.
CIOs as whole feel are feeling challenged
CIOs regardless of industry feel challenged. They feel challenged by changes coming at them in general and in industry specific mandates and standards. They clearly need to move faster and to move from organizations that are about getting the internals of IT running well to organizations that can absorb new technology models, scale up and down in “Internet time”, and flex seamlessly to support business model innovation. For more information, see the related links below:
When you talk to CIOs today, you strongly get the feeling that that the CIO role is about to change. One CIO said to me that the CIO is the midst of “a sea state change”. Recently, I got to talk with a half a dozen CIOs on what is most important to their role and how they see the role as a whole changing over the next few years. Their answers were thought provoking and worthy of broader discussion.
CIOs say it is becoming less and less common for the CIO to come up through the technical ranks. One CIO said it used to common for one to become a CIO after being a CTO but this has changed. More and more business people are becoming CIOs. The CIO role today is “more about understanding the business than to understanding technology. It is more about business alignment than technology alignment”. This need for better business alignment led one CIO to say that consulting is a great starting point for a future IT leader. Consulting provides a future IT leader with the following: 1) vertical expertise; 2) technical expertise; and 3) systems integration expertise. Another CIO suggested that the CIO role sometimes is being used these days as a rotational position for a future business leader. “It provides these leaders with technical skills that they will need in their career.” Regardless, it is increasingly clear that business expertise versus technical expertise is much more important.
How will the CIO role change?
CIOs, in general, believe that their role will change in the next five years. One CIO insisted that CIOs are going to continue to be incredibly important to their enterprises. However, he said that CIOs have the opportunity to create analytics that guide the business in finding value. For CIOs to do this, they need to connect the dots between transactional systems, BI, and the planning systems. They need to convert data into action. This means they need to enable the business to be proactive and cut the time it takes for them to execute. CIOs need in his view to enable their enterprises to generate differentiated value than competitors.
Another CIO sees the CIOs becoming the orchestrator vs. the builder of business services. This CIO said that “building stuff is now really table stakes”. Cloud and loosely oriented partnerships is bringing vendor management to the forefront. Agreeing with this point of view, a third CIO says that she sees CIOs moving from an IT role into a business role. She went onto say that “CIOs need to understand the business better and be able to partner better with the business. They need to understand the role for IT better and this includes understanding their firm’s business models better”.
A final CIO suggests something even more radical. He believes that the CIO role will disappear altogether or morph into something new. This CIO claims CIOs have the opportunity to become the chief digital officer or the COO. After all, the CIO is about implementing business processes.
For more technical CIOs, this CIO sees them reverting into CTOs but he worries at the same time about the importance of hardware and platform issues with the increasing importance of cloud—this type of role is going to become less and less relevant. This same CIO says that, in passing, CIOs screwed up a golden opportunity 10 years ago. At this time, CIOs one by one clawed their way to the table and separated themselves from the CFO. However, once they were at the table, they did not change their game. They continued to talk bits and bytes versus business issues. And one by one, they are being returned to the CFO to manage.
So change is inevitable. CIOs need to change their game or be changed by external forces. So let’s start the debate right now. How do you see the CIO role changing? Express your opinion. Let’s see where you and the above CIOs agree and more importantly where you differ?
Several years ago, I got to participate in one of the first neural net conferences. At the time, I thought it was amazing just to be there. There were chip and software vendors galore. Many even claimed to be the next Intel or the next Microsoft. Years later I joined a complex event processing vendor. Again, I felt the same sense of excitement. In both cases, the market participants moved from large horizontal market plays to smaller and more vertical solutions.
Now to be clear, it is not my goal today to pop anyone’s big data balloon. But as I have gotten more excited about big data, I have gotten more and more an eerie sense of deja vu. The fact is the more that I dig into big data and hear customer’s stories about what they are trying to do with big data; the more I have concern about the similarities between big data and neural nets and complex event processing.
Clearly, big data does offer some interesting new features. And big data does take advantage of other market trends including virtualization and cloud. By doing so, big data achieves new orders of scalability than traditional business intelligence processing and storage. At the same time, big data offers the potential for lowering cost but I should take a moment to stress the word potential. The reason I do this is that while a myriad of processing approaches have been developed, no standard has yet emerged. And early adopters complain about having a difficulty in hiring big data map reduce programmers. And just like neural nets, the programing that needs to be done is turning out to be application specific.
With this said, it should be clear that big data does offer the potential to test datasets and to discover new and sometimes unexpected data relationship. This is a real positive thing. However, like its predecessors, this work is application specific and the data that is being related is truly of differing quality and detail. This means that the best that big data can do as a technology movement is discover potential data relationship. Once this is done, meaning can only be created by establishing detailed data relationships and dealing with the varying quality of data sets within the big data cluster.
Big Data will become small for management analysis
This means that big data must become small in order to really solve customer problems. Judith Hurwitz puts it this way, “big data analysis is really about small data. Small data, therefore, is the product of big data analysis. Big data will become small so that it is easier to comprehend”. What is “more necessary than ever is the capability to analyze the right data in a timely enough fashion to make decisions and take actions”. Judith says that in the end what is needed is quality data that is consistent, accurate, reliable, complete, timely, reasonable, and valid. The critical point is whether you use map reduce processing or traditional BI means, you shouldn’t throw out your data integration and quality tools. As big data becomes smaller, these will in reality become increasingly important.
So how does Judith see big data evolving? Judith sees big data propelling a lot of new small data. Judith believes that, “getting the right perspective on data quality can be very challenging in the world of big data. With a majority of big data sources, you need to assume that you are working with data that is not clean”. Judith says that we need to accept the fact that a lot of noise will exist in data. It is by searching and pattern matching that you will be able to find some sparks of truth in the midst of some very dirty data”. Judith suggests, therefore, a two phase approach—1) look for patterns in big data without concern for data quality; and 2) after you locate your patterns, applying the same data quality standards that have been applied to traditional data sources.
For this reason, I believe that history will to a degree repeat itself. Clearly, the big data emperor does have his clothes on, but big data will become smaller and more vertical. Big data will become about relationship discovery and small data will become about quality analysis of data sources. In sum, this means that small data analysis is focused and provides the data for business decision making and big data analysis is broad and is about discovering what data potentially relates to what data. I know this is a bit of different from the hype but it is realistic and makes sense. Remember, in the end, you will still need what business intelligence has refined.
Business leaders share with Fortune Magazine their view of Big Data
Fortune Magazine recently asked a number of business leaders about what Big Data means to them. These leaders provide three great stories for the meaning of Big Data. Phil McAveety at Starwood Hotels talked about their oldest hotel having a tunnel between the general manager’s office and the front desk. This way the general manager could see and hear new arrivals and greet each like an old friend. Phil sees Big Data as a 21st century version of this tunnel. It enables us to know our guests and send them offers that matter to them. Jamie Miller at GE says Big Data is being about transforming how they service their customers while simplifying the way they run their company. Finally, Ellen Richey at VISA says that big data holds the promise of making new connections between disperse bits of information creating value.
Everyone is doing it but nobody really knows why?
I find all of these definitions interesting, but they are all very different and application specific. This isn’t encouraging. The message from Gartner is even less so. They find that “everyone is doing it but nobody really knows why”. According to Matt Asay, “the gravitational pull of Big Data is now so strong that even people who haven’t a clue as to what it’s all about report that they are running Big Data projects”. Gartner found in their research that 64% of enterprises surveyed say they’re deploying or planning to deploy Big Data projects. The problem is that 56% of those surveyed are struggling trying to determine how to get value out of big data, and 23% of those surveyed are struggling at how to define Big Data. Hopefully, none of the latter are being counted in the 64%. . Regardless, Gartner believes that the number of companies with Big Data projects is only going to increase. The question is how many of projects are just a recast of an existing BI project in order to secure funding or approval. No one will ever know.
Managing the hype phase of Big Data
One CIO that we talked to worries about this hype phase of Big Data. He says the opportunity is to inform analytics and guiding and finding business value. However, worries whether past IT mistakes will repeat themselves. This CIO believes that IT has gone through three waves. IT has grown from homegrown systems to ERP to Business Intelligence/Big Data. ERP was supposed to solve all the problems of the homegrown solutions but it did not provide anything more than information on transactions. You could not understand what is going on out there with ERP. BI and Big Data is trying to go after this. However, this CIO worries that CEOs/CFOs will soon start complaining that the information garnered does not make the business more money. He worries that CEOs and CFOs will start effectively singing the Who song, “We won’t get fooled again.”
This CIO believes that to make more money, Big Data needs to connect the dots between transactional systems, BI, and planning systems. It needs to convert data into business value. This means Big Data is not just another silo of data, but needs to be connected and correlated to the rest of your data landscape to make it actionable. To do this, he says it needs to be proactive and cut the time to execution. It needs to enable the enterprise to generate value different than competitors. This, he believes mean that it needs to orchestrate activities so they maximize profit or increase customer satisfaction. You need to get to the point where it is sense and response. Transactional systems, BI, and planning systems need to provide intelligence to allow managers to optimize business processes execution. According to Judith Hurwitz, optimization is about establishing the correlation between streams of information and matching the resulting pattern with defined behaviors such as mitigating a threat or seizing an opportunity.”
Don’t leave your CEO and CFO with a sense of deja vu
In sum, Big Data needs to go further in generating enough value to not leave your CEO and CFO with a sense of deja vu. The question is do you agree? Do you personally have a good handle on what Big Data is? And lastly, do you fear a day when the value generated needs to be attested to?
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview half dozen CIOs and half dozen CFOs. Kind of like a marriage therapist, I got to see each party’s story about the relationship. CFOs, in particular, felt that the quality of the relationship could impact their businesses’ success. Armed with this knowledge, I wanted to see if I could help each leader build a better working relationship. Previously, I let CIO’s know about the emergence and significance of the strategic CFO. In today’s post, l will start by sharing the CIOs perspective on the CFO relationship and then I will discuss how CFOs can build better CIO relationships.
CIOs feel under the gun these days!
If you don’t know, CIOs feel under the gun these days. CIOs see their enterprises demanding ubiquitous computing. Users want to use their apps and expect corporate apps to look like their personal apps such as Facebook. They want to bring their own preferred devices. Most of all, , they want all their data on any device when they need it. This means CIOs are trying to manage a changing technical landscape of mobile, cloud, social, and big data. These are all vying for both dollars and attention. As a result, CIOs see their role in a sea change. Today, they need to focus less on building things and more on managing vendors. CIOs say that they need to 1) better connect what IT is doing to support the business strategy; 2) improve technical orchestration; and 3) improve process excellence. This is a big and growing charter.
CIOs see the CFO conversation being just about the numbers
CIOs worry that you don’t understand how many things are now being run by IT and that historical percentages of revenue may no longer appropriate. Think about healthcare, which used to be a complete laggard in technology but today it is having everything digitalized. Even a digital thermometer plugs into an iPad so it directly communicates with a patient record. The world has clearly changed. And CIOs worry that you view IT as merely a cost center and that you do not see the value generated through IT investment or the asset that information provides to business decision makers. However, the good news is that I believe that a different type of discussion is possible. And that CFOs have the opportunity to play an important role in helping to shape the value that CIOs deliver to the business.
CFOs should share their experience and business knowledge
CFOs that I talked to said that they believe the CFO/CIO relationship needs to be complimentary and that the roles have the most concentric rings. These CFOs believe that the stronger the relationship the better it is for their business. One area that you can help the CIO is in sharing your knowledge of the business and business needs. CIOs are trying to get closer to the business and you can help build this linkage and to support requests that come out of this process. Clearly, an aligned CFO can be “one of the biggest advocates of the CIO”. Given this, make sure that you are on your CIOs Investment Committee.
Tell your CIO about your data pains
CFOs need to be good customers too. CFOs that I talked to told me that they know their business has “a data issue”. They worry about the integrity of data from the source. CFOs see their role as relying increasingly on timely, accurate data. They, also, know they have disparate systems and too much manual stuff going on in the back office. For them, integration needs to exist from the frontend to the backend. Their teams personally feel the large number of manual steps.
For this reasons, CFOs, we talked to, believe that the integration of data is a big issue whether they are in a small or large business. Have you talked to your CIO about data integration or quality projects to change the ugliness that you have to live with day in day out? It will make you and the business more efficient. One CFO was blunt here saying “making life easier is all about the systems. If the systems suck then you cannot trust the numbers when you get them. You want to access the numbers easily, timely, and accurately. You want to make easier to forecast so you can set expectations with the business and externally”.
At the same time, CFOs that I talked to worried about the quality of financial and business data analysis. Once he had data, he worried about being able to analyze information effectively. Increasingly, CFOs say that they need to help drive synergies across their businesses. At the same time, CFOs increasingly need to manage upward with information. They want information for decision makers so they can make better decisions.
Changing the CIO Dialog
So it is clear that CFOs like you see data as a competitive advantage in particular financial data. The question is, as your unofficial therapist, why aren’t you having a discussion with your CIO not just about the numbers or financial justification for this or that system and instead, asking about the+ integration investment that can make your integration problems go away.
The strategic CFO is different than the “1975 Controller CFO”
Traditionally, CIOs have tended to work with what one CIO called a “1975 Controller CFO”. For this reason, the relationship between CIOs and CFOs was expressed well in a single word “contentious”. But a new type of CFO is emerging that offers the potential of different type of relationship. These so called “strategic CFOs” can be an effective ally for CIOs. The question is which type of CFO do you have? In this post, I will provide you with a bit of a litmus test so you can determine what type of CFO you have but more importantly, I will share how you can take maximum advantage of having a strategic-oriented CFO relationship. But first let’s hear a bit more of the CIOs reactions to CFOs.
Views of CIOs according to CIO interviews
Clearly, “the relationship…with these CFOs is filled with friction”. Controller CFOs “do not get why so many things require IT these days. They think that things must be out of whack. One CIO said that they think technology should only cost 2-3% of revenue while it can easily reach 8-9% of revenue these days.” Another CIO complained by saying their discussion with a Controller CFOs is only about IT productivity and effectiveness. In their eyes, this has limited the topics of discussion to IT cost reduction, IT produced business savings, and the soundness of the current IT organization. Unfortunately, this CIO believe that Controller CFOs are not concerned with creating business value or sees information as an asset. Instead, they view IT as a cost center. Another CIO says Controller CFOs are just about the numbers and see the CIO role as being about signing checks. It is a classic “demand versus supply” issue. At the same times, CIOs say that they see reporting to Controller CFO as a narrowing function. As well, they believe it signals to the rest of the organization “that IT is not strategic and less important than other business functions”.
What then is this strategic CFO?
In contrast to their controller peers, strategic CFOs often have a broader business background than their accounting and a CPA peers. Many have, also, pursued an MBA. Some have public accounting experience. Others yet come from professions like legal, business development, or investment banking.
More important than where they came from, strategic CFOs see a world that is about more than just numbers. They want to be more externally facing and to understand their company’s businesses. They tend to focus as much on what is going to happen as they do on what has happened. Remember, financial accounting is backward facing. Given this, strategic CFOs spend a lot of time trying to understand what is going on in their firm’s businesses. One strategic CFO said that they do this so they can contribute and add value—I want to be a true business leader. And taking this posture often puts them in the top three decision makers for their business. There may be lessons in this posture for technology focused CIOs.
Why is a strategic CFO such a game changer for CIO?
One CIO put it this way. “If you have a modern day CFO, then they are an enabler of IT”. Strategic CFO’s agree. Strategic CFOs themselves as having the “the most concentric circles with the CIO”. They believe that they need “CIOs more than ever to extract data to do their jobs better and to provide the management information business leadership needs to make better business decisions”. At the same time, the perspective of a strategic CFO can be valuable to the CIO because they have good working knowledge of what the business wants. They, also, tend to be close to the management information systems and computer systems. CFOs typically understand the needs of the business better than most staff functions. The CFOs, therefore, can be the biggest advocate of the CIO. This is why strategic CFOs should be on the CIOs Investment Committee. Finally, a strategic CFO can help a CIO ensure their technology selections meet affordability targets and are compliant with the corporate strategy.
Are the priorities of a strategic CFO different?
Strategic CFOs still care P&L, Expense Management, Budgetary Control, Compliance, and Risk Management. But they are also concerned about performance management for the enterprise as whole and senior management reporting. As well they, they want to do the above tasks faster so finance and other functions can do in period management by exception. For this reason they see data and data analysis as a big issue.
Strategic CFOs care about data integration
In interviews of strategic CFOs, I saw a group of people that truly understand the data holes in the current IT system. And they intuit firsthand the value proposition of investing to fix things here. These CFOs say that they worry “about the integrity of data from the source and about being able to analyze information”. They say that they want the integration to be good enough that at the push of button they can get an accurate report. Otherwise, they have to “massage the data and then send it through another system to get what you need”.
These CFOs say that they really feel the pain of systems not talking to each other. They understand this means making disparate systems from the frontend to the backend talk to one another. But they, also, believe that making things less manual will drive important consequences including their own ability to inspect books more frequently. Given this, they see data as a competitive advantage. One CFO even said that they thought data is the last competitive advantage.
Strategic CFOs are also worried about data security. They believe their auditors are going after this with a vengeance. They are really worried about getting hacked. One said, “Target scared a lot of folks and was to many respects a watershed event”. At the same time, Strategic CFOs want to be able to drive synergies across the business. One CFO even extolled the value of a holistic view of customer. When I asked why this was a finance objective versus a marketing objective, they said finance is responsible for business metrics and we have gaps in our business metrics around customer including the percentage of cross sell is taking place between our business units. Another CFO amplified on this theme by saying that “increasingly we need to manage upward with information. For this reason, we need information for decision makers so they can make better decisions”. Another strategic CFO summed this up by saying “the integration of the right systems to provide the right information needs to be done so we and the business have the right information to manage and make decisions at the right time”.
So what are you waiting for?
If you are lucky enough to have a Strategic CFO, start building your relationship. And you can start by discussing their data integration and data quality problems. So I have a question for you. How many of you think you have a Controller CFO versus a Strategic CFO? Please share here.
After 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 enterprise’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 suggesting 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 Peter’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!
In my marketing classes, I like to share on the works of Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy. This includes discussing his three generic business strategies. We discuss, for example, the difference between an “efficiency strategy” (aka Walmart) and an “effectiveness strategy” (aka Target or even better, a high end service oriented retailer). I always make sure that students include in their thinking on differentiation the impact of customer service.
One of these high end service oriented retailers is using technology to increase its customer intimacy as well as holistic customer knowledge. Driving this for them involves understanding when customers use their full price and off price customer purchase channels. I was so fascinated about their question that I decided to ask the font of all wisdom, my wife. She said that her choice of channel is based on my current salary or her projected length of use of an item. So if she is buying a jacket that she wants to use for years, she will go to the full price channel but for a dress or pair of shoes for one time use like a Wedding, she will go to the lower priced channel. Clearly, there is more than one answer to these questions. This retailer wants to understand the answers by customer segments.
To create an understanding of each customer segment, this retailer wants to create a “high fidelity” view of data coming from customers, markets, and transactional interactions. This means that that they need two new business capabilities. First is a single integrated view of their customers across channels and the ability to see the cause and effect of customer channel selection decisions. Do customers spend more time at the full price channel option when, for example, sale offerings are going on?
To solve these problems, the retailer has implemented two technology approaches, master data management to bring together its disparate views of customer and big data for quick hypothesis testing of customer data from structured and unstructured sources. With Master Data, they get a single view of customer across differing IT systems. For separate customer specific analysis they have created operational and analytic views on top of the MDM system. And while they have an enterprise data warehouse and multiple analytical data marts, they have also created a HADOOP cluster to test hypothesis about the cross channel customer segments. They are using the single view of customer regardless of channels and transaction history to understand when customers use which channel and as well what marketing or other campaigns pulled the customer in. With this, they are creating inferred attributes for customer market segments.
Clearly, the smarter the retailer gets, the greater the differentiation the retailer services can be to customers. At the same time, the data let’s the retailer optimize marketing between channels. This is using data to create service differentiation.
Like many American men, I judge my banking experience by the efficiency of my transaction time. However, my wife often still likes to go into the bank and see her favorite teller.
For her, banking is a bit more of a social experience. And every once in a while, my wife even drags into her bank as well. But like many of my male counterparts, I still judge the quality of the experience by the operational efficiency of her teller. And the thing that I hate the most is when our experience at the bank is lengthened when the teller can’t do something and has to get the bank manager’s approval.
Now, a major financial institution has decided to make my life and even my wife’s life better. Using Informatica Rulepoint, they have come up with a way to improve teller operational efficiency and customer experience while actually decreasing operational business risks. Amazing!
How has this bank done this magic? They make use of the data that they have to create a better banking experience. They already capture historical transactions data and team member performance against each transaction in multiple databases. What they are doing now is using this information to make better decisions. With this information, this bank is able to create and update a risk assessment score for each team member at a branch location. And then by using Informatica Rulepoint, they have created approximately 100 rules that are able change teller’s authority based upon the new transaction, the teller’s transaction history, and the teller’s risk assessment score. This means that if my wife carefully picks the right teller, she is speed through the line without waiting for management approval.
So the message at this bank is the fastest teller is the best teller. To me this is really using data to improve customer experience and allow for less time in a line. Maybe I should get this bank to talk next to my auto mechanic!