Digital Transformation: Four Things for CIOs to Consider

A “data-first” view of the CIO role in Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation: Four Things for CIOs to ConsiderTalk of “digital transformation” is everywhere. The one thing everybody can agree on is that the CIO is at the epicenter of this megatrend from both the business innovation and technology dimensions. The successful CIO will have to be the master of both.

I was just reading CIO Magazine’s 2017 State of the CIO.  CIOs report that they are spending more time on transformational and strategic activities and are spending more time with the CEO, LOB, and Board of Directors.

Possibly as a result, they are challenged more and are enjoying it more. That’s all good, but let’s take a look at this from a “data-first” point of view.

Four Things, from my data-first point of view, that a CIO needs to consider to be a successful partner for digital transformation:

  • Design for Shared Data. You may succeed on the next initiative, but lose the war. The critical thing here is to build for medium and long-term success. Data is the fuel that your digital transformation initiatives (plural) will run on. That means that you will need to design for the fact that all your data, internal and external, needs to be readily available to any new use that comes along. Your analytics initiatives are looking to combine data in ways that have never been possible before. That is where the useful business insights will come from. Your Marketing team is looking to drive customer-centricity initiatives that required gathering, matching up, and relating all the possible data about your customers as a means to delivering a superior customer experience with your brand. You will have to have a plan to keep the fuel flowing for use cases that are probably unimaginable today.
  • Build Yourself a Solid Place to Stand. The saying goes, “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world.”  So, where is that steady place where a CIO going to stand? Another saying is that, “The only constant in IT is change. CIOs have to deal with a waterfall of new data types and complexity, change to new and more modern applications, and a wave of technology change including mobile, big data, machine learning, AI, and much more to come. It is going to take an AI engine to keep track of it all. But, seriously, nobody can afford to start over when a new application or technology comes along. You need to keep what you have running, and plug in the new technology in a modular a manner as possible. Anything else is too expensive and disruptive to your organization’s productivity. If data is the fuel for your digital strategy, your data management platform and architecture needs to be the bedrock that all this change is built on. You need to design a data management architecture that spans the entire organization; any data, any systems, any use case. But, it will take focus and vision.
  • Plan to Deliver at Speed. CIOs have done a good job of delivering trustworthy data for business processes and Data Warehouse/Business Intelligence (DW/BI) use. But the very processes that make the data trustworthy for these use cases, may be too slow for rapid innovation. CIOs need to design for speed of data delivery in the sense of managing the data “just enough” for the intended use. Innovation may not require perfect data. Strategic decisions do require perfect data. Next, your data management platform had to enable business self-service. IT will never get all the resources required to meet the growing needs of business users.  The only reasonable approach is to enable them to self-service their data in a safe environment. Finally, your data management platform needs to leverage intelligence and automation to make both your business and IT resources more productive. In an environment that is growing more complex in practically every dimension, intelligent recommendations and automation of routine jobs are essential for growing the business while also increasing the speed of data delivery.
  • Data Security Matters. The CIO article included a key finding that security was considered essential. But, when you read into the details, what they are talking about is data breeches. The old ways of approaching security are a necessary foundation, but what is required now is a data-centric approach to data security. You cannot stop data proliferation. It is just a fact of life. The way forward is to catch data as it enters the organization, analyze where the sensitive data is, understand where sensitive data is being used, and set up systems to monitor and protect against the misuse of data, wherever that might occur. The point is that data-centric security needs to be a key part of your overall data architecture.

All of this means that successful CIOs will have to step back and make an investment in enterprise data management if they are going to be successful at digital transformation. If you think this sounds unlikely, consider that an independent survey of Enterprise Architects sponsored by Informatica showed that the vast majority of the enterprise architects surveyed were thinking very much along these lines.