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How to put data at the heart of your digital transformation project

As Covid-19 has spread around the world, economies have entered free-fall, businesses have been forced to send hundreds of millions of workers home and the transfer of spending from physical to digital channels has accelerated. 

Driven by these trends, business leaders seeking to deliver digital transformation projects at pace are turning to cloud computing platforms in ever greater numbers. But are they doing so in a way that is cost-effective, data-centric and sustainable in the long-term? That was the question at the heart of a recent NS Tech virtual CIO roundtable discussion, sponsored by Informatica and Deloitte. 

Opening the session, Informatica’s VP EMEA & LATAM, Greg Hanson, warned that many businesses “struggled to adopt cloud and digital transformation as quickly as they would’ve liked” ahead of the crisis. 

“I think there’s a real danger that many organisations have gone through what I describe as cloud sprawl, where ungoverned adoption of new technologies has actually introduced complexity,” he told attendees. “It has made outreach to business partners more difficult by fragmentation, and adoption of multiple skillsets.” 

With organisations in both the public and private sectors under pressure to cut costs, Hanson said CIOs must “rationalise and simplify” their cloud operations in order to accelerate transformation projects, reduce the chance of “bill shock” and harness data that is fit for purpose. 

Informatica’s VP of UK&I, Matt Dunnett, said that while “our world is traditionally selling to the CDO and CIO”, Covid-19 means that “we’re now selling to those people plus the CFO and CEO”, highlighting the significance with which digital transformation projects are now regarded. 

Following the opening remarks, one of the CIOs admitted they recognised the challenges Hanson and Dunnett had presented. “When I took over this role about eight months ago, I had a put a screeching halt to moving to cloud because really all we were going to do is dump a bunch of rubbish into it and pay more money to do so. 

“But the biggest challenge with this is managing expectations, because a lot of the ground work is boring,” they said. “It isn’t exciting; it isn’t digital and you don’t see the direct benefits. What I’m finding now is that people are getting a bit of data fatigue and now they want to see results so obviously we’re still doing the ground work, but we’re kicking off the feasibility around customer digitisation and I’m trying to be the bit between to make sure we’re prioritising the data stuff that will allow that digital feasibility to actually be implemented.” 

Sri Kanthadai, Senior Director of Data & Analytics Modernisation at Deloitte, said every business initiative should be driven by three key factors. “One is yield; increase your top-line or your profit margins. The second is efficiency and that’s operational, whether it’s cost-reduction, process-streamlining or effort-reduction. The third is compliance. 

At the start of the project, you evaluate these metrics and decide which of the priorities is important at that time – either cost reduction, increasing yield or cost avoidance in the case of compliance such as GDPR. 

“But then you need to look at that the metrics ongoing basis and say, ‘Hey, this is what it’s costing me to run this operation year-on-year, including how much we’re spending on these data sources, but has the business been achieving the same kind of efficiency or metrics that were wanted or predicted at the beginning?’ That’s an ongoing process that you need to have if you want to measure the success of your programme.” 

The CIOs participating in the discussion shared a number of suggestions for extracting usable data from transformation projects. One said they always request that product managers are able to justify new applications and services using data, while another said that while it may be challenging to do so, it’s important to find developers who can think like product managers and product managers who think like developers. 

Toby Waldock, a Partner and IDO Insurance Lead at Deloitte, said that short of being able to find “purple people”, who have both a technical skillset (red) and serious business acumen (blue), clients should create purple teams” with a combined knowledge of the digital use-cases and the technical implementation. 

“In my view there is a need to have faster-moving, mixed skills teams for pre-production and then slower delivery teams, but not having corporate amnesia about what the value was in the first place.” 

Wrapping up the discussion, Informatica’s Hanson said one of the most important things for business leaders overseeing transformation projects to remember is to “link data to business value”. 

“Before we embark on a big programme of work we need to get value from it. One idea is to embed business users along with data scientists so they ask the right questions of the data and it delivers the business value outcome required.

“From a technology perspective, using a data management platform with AI gives you the ability to make informed decisions and track and trace what data is being used where, to reduce cost and manage the environment overall.” 

Lastly, Hanson warned that CIOs cannot afford to forget about data quality. “As we move forward, the quality of the data is really going to drive the quality of the experience we provide to business partners and to customers.”