As big data, cloud and the internet of things (IoT) become increasingly ubiquitous, more and more organisations are undergoing transformations in order to become truly digital enterprises. In fact, nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of IT and business leaders across EMEA consider their organisations to be digital enterprises today.
The entire world around us, from society to economy, is powered by data and, as a result, it is no longer a choice to become a digital company - it is a must. Making this a reality for businesses across the board means understanding a number of essential steps.
Firstly, it involves recognising that, while the process of digital transformation is often regarded as the sole responsibility of the IT department, this is not the case. In fact, this sort of siloed approach guarantees failure.
Engaging all business functions so that they are aligned is essential to ensuring a business-wide data-driven strategy. Good leadership begins with dispelling this myth so that employees understand they all have a role to play in transformation and becoming data-centric. This depends on management reassuring employees that better business decisions can be made if data is readily available for analysis.
Data in the driving seat
Of course, a big part of driving a data-centric organisation is dependent on management cultivating the necessary range of technical skills - for example, project managers should be taking advantage of automated solutions to free up resources - but team leaders must also ensure the right people are on board. Managers must look for employees who understand how data can fuel growth, will treat it as a valuable asset and have the necessary skills to implement a digital strategy practically. Of course, upskilling employees is also a responsibility of management, who should implement internal training programmes to supplement existing knowledge and expertise.
Internal processes must then be redesigned to match the new skills and technologies being introduced. In a data-centric company, there should be no departmental boundaries. Decisions in the digital enterprise should be drawn from data representative of the whole organisation and should therefore also apply to the entire organisation, for each department, each team and each individual.
As part of the transformation process, these traditional silos and islands within corporate structures should be broken down. This is both a technical and a cultural challenge. While data integration tools can help to clean and connect data from across the enterprise, individual teams will have to learn to collaborate with other departments.
Data helps organisations to build a much more reliable picture of their target market, bringing in insights based on established facts ,rather than a gut feeling. For example, by sifting through social media mentions to establish a detailed picture of customer concerns and likes and analysing sales patterns to determine areas for improvement and particularly successful periods of activity, as well as using information from connected sensors to monitor building conditions or transport fleets.
Without this insight, companies cannot proactively respond to customer demands and, in the digital age, this means product developments cannot be allowed to take years because that development will then be outpaced by data-driven competition.
Half of the Fortune 500 companies from the year 2000 no longer exist. These companies did not recognise how new digital developments and companies would disrupt their business. Take Kodak as a prime example. A seemingly indomitable giant in an apparently secure market, it recognised the potential of digital photography too late and, as a result, fell into bankruptcy in 2012. This exemplifies the fact that those who fail to exploit the potential of connected data when they have the chance risk being left behind.
The smart world is coming
In a world where the IoT will continue to change fundamentally how businesses operate, they must accept that digital development will also continue at an unrelenting pace. With increased connectivity comes increasing volumes of data, which businesses must use as a listening tool to understand the market, competitors and the preferences of customers.
In practice, that means that management teams must prioritise data projects and ensure their teams are fully enfranchised in the process, as well as investing in tools to reduce the man-hours required. Businesses must embrace digitalisation - or risk allowing competitors to overtake them.