Data has the power to be a strategic tool and therefore create value for a business. However, data can only provide a return on investment (RoI) if business technology leaders ensure the data is in good shape, the organisation has the skills and the right governance in place, delegates at a Tech Monitor webinar heard.
Organisations have moved beyond merely collecting data to understanding that data creates business value. “Our contact centre population is very data savvy, down to how it affects their performance or bonus,” says James Fairhurst, CIO with Atlanta Group, a major insurance broker that operates well-known brands such as Swintons.
“I cannot think of a knowledge working profession that is not going beyond spreadsheets,” adds Alan Jacobson, chief data and analytics officer with Alteryx, the data analytics specialists. “The International Institute for Analytics has shown that organisations that use data effectively have higher growth, higher share value and improve in almost every metric,” he adds.
“The board are really keen to understand how to utilise their data now,” says Dax Grant, former CIO for bankers HSBC and now CEO and advisor for Global Transform. “How to use data in a strategic way is not necessarily about keep collecting data, but to use the data well. So organisations need to understand what data is in the organisation and how that data helps with market positioning,” she says.
Fairhurst at Atlanta Group says at various times business technology leaders will need to launch and manage data consolidation programmes in order to deliver business value from data. “We have been on a large merger and acquisitions journey over recent years and we have amassed a number of managing information platforms. They all have different reporting ways, so you have different versions of the truth. So we have been building a single version of the truth.” Grant agrees with Fairhurst’s strategy and says this is vital for the board to see the value of data: “The board want to know there is one truth and for the whole board to say yes I recognise that data.” She adds that when you are consolidating data programmes and technologies, like Fairhurst is, “there is some delicate stakeholder management”.
The tech leaders were speaking as part of the Tech Monitor webinar, Return on data: Tying data strategy to business value, which was held in association with Alteryx. The entire event is available to view on demand here.
Governance and education
“The more data the better, but there does need to be some control,” says Martin King, CTO with the Leadership Group. The former CTO of The Football Pools says governance protects the value that is within data and need not be a blocker to business progress. “Otherwise you are back down the route of ‘where does the data chrome from and can we actually trust it’,” he says of how governance ensures that board-level trust in the organisation’s data.
Grant agrees and she says accountability is vital. “In the excitement over data there can be a bit of a scramble, so be very clear on the accountability framework,” she says. “We had to educate the business that the single version of the truth is really important, as then the conversations around the table are more useful and people are able to solve problems,” adds Fairhurst.
“There is an education aspect in this space that is still happening,” says Jacobson at Alteryx. He says organisations now recognise that analytics is not for the three PHDs in an Ivory Tower, but the entire organisation has to be using data and analytics.
And this is where, Jacobson says, the education aspect is so important. Data and analytics skills are in high demand by our three CIOs and all of their peers. However there is good news for recruiting CIOs: “The growth of apprenticeships and diversity programmes mean people are becoming more aware that to do analytics you need people from a variety of backgrounds,” King says.
Grant adds that women will often look at careers in data in a way they do not look at careers in technology. “It is a new pathway to encourage diversity in the organisation,” she says. Jacobson reminds people that as well as new recruits, organisations will only release value from data if everyone in the business is data-literate, which includes long-standing employees. “You are taking people through a change management programme and you need to think about how you engage with them,” he says.
Boards and organisations are interested in data and data strategies in order to innovate their products, services and business operations.
To get to this point many organisations are tasking data leaders, as well as CIOs and CTOs with creating a data culture across the business. Fairhurst at Atlanta Group says it is important to provide some flexibility to the governance to ensure the business can innovate. He says this has allowed the insurance brokerage business to use data to understand a business opportunity, but with the knowledge that the data may not be as perfect as the governed data that makes up the single version of truth the business relies on. “We accept there may be some variance.”
If the experiment shows it will deliver business value, then Fairhurst works with the innovation to ensure it uses the most accurate data available. To get to this point the financial services CIO has ensured that technical data people and subject matter experts can work together easily.
All four data and technology business leaders have enabled data-led innovations in their organisations. As CTO of AdviserPlus, King was able to deploy data analytics as a service to the organisation’s customers. “We could drive real business decisions for our clients on performance management and provide them with benchmarking,” he says.
While Jacobson says providing analytics to a bakery business of the impact of weather events meant the business could cope with the climate emergency and rising numbers of storms in parts of the USA and Grant says one of the boards she is working with now needs to only collect necessary data as it understands the data it has within the organisation and how to use it to create business value.
All four tech leaders were speaking on a Tech Monitor webinar, Return on data: Tying data strategy to business value, in association with Alteryx. Download the webinar to watch on demand, here.
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