Turning data from a burden into fuel for growth

What’s the point in collecting data if your business isn’t equipped to make the very most of it? That’s the key question business leaders need to consider, according to a recent study conducted on behalf of Dell Technologies by Forrester Consulting.  

The Data Paradox study, which involved speaking to more than 4,000 senior decision-makers in over 40 locations around the world, suggests that while businesses believe that data is vital fuel for their growth, they’re struggling to keep up with the ‘data-first, data anywhere’ business challenges. In fact, 70% of businesses reported gathering data faster than they can use it and 65% are consequently dealing with overwhelmed data teams.

So what can be done to turn data from a burden into the fuel for growth? Businesses can navigate the data burden by assessing their digital transformation journey in three areas: infrastructure, process, and people and culture.

Infrastructure: Navigating the on-demand environment

Businesses today are operating in a more dynamic, on-demand environment than ever before, but many are relying on legacy infrastructure that just isn’t agile or adaptable enough to cope. Rather than thinking in terms of hardware needs, CIOs should map business outcomes to digital infrastructure requirements, making the conversation about fuelling growth rather than project costs. They should set a plan that creates business-wide consensus for a manageable digital transformation. Taking this outcome-based approach will also help them to break down data silos and help make data work harder.   

As-a-service solutions can be key here by offering scalable capacity and performance. Businesses are alert to the opportunity – 57% of the Data Paradox study respondents stated they believe as-a-service approaches would enable firms to be more agile – which suggests that many see how it can help them to quickly pivot to seize new opportunities and better respond to changes in demand. This flexibility not only reduces the financial burden of infrastructure costs, but also allows businesses to add competencies and specialisations as they grow and their needs evolve. It reduces risk without sacrificing capabilities or losing control – and importantly closes off that data paradox. 

Process: Accelerating business growth

As part of an outcomes-based perspective on infrastructure, businesses can also look at how they collect and store their data to unlock its full value. The Data Paradox study found that for 46% decision-makers, the quality of their actionable insights has decreased or plateaued compared to where it was three years ago. Meanwhile, only 17% said they are treating data as capital today – despite 57% claiming their businesses are data-driven. As data’s centre of gravity shifts in an increasingly distributed environment, setting the right processes will help make the ‘why’ of data collection the question that’s answered before people consider the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. 

Businesses should also combine their data silos to make it much easier to extract and act on insights in real time. For many, different parts of the business have different applications and this disconnected approach makes acquiring and sharing data slow and expensive, particularly after teams – or indeed businesses – combine. In fact, 69% of respondents to the Data Paradox study struggling with data silos identify mergers and acquisitions as the top cause of data silos in their organisations.  

If the people don’t change, the skills don’t change, the processes don’t change, and the infrastructure doesn’t change, it’ll be like trying to put ten times more cars on a motorway without adding extra lanes. We’ll have data jams everywhere

Better matching infrastructure and processes with business outcomes will also help the IT team to focus on advising other teams on ways to move the business forward using technology. For example, one of Dell’s European national bank customers found that they could not keep pace with the number of innovation project requests coming from the business. By building an end-to-end automation solution it removed the IT department completely from many of the day-to-day infrastructure operations and the problem was eliminated. This approach also reduced the time needed to commission a new environment from weeks to hours. This meant that the team could focus on strategic areas like consulting with the business on data harmonisation and monetisation rather than systems, build and admin. 

People and Culture: Achieving business agility

The Data Paradox study found that businesses’ cultural and skills readiness for the data era were lagging behind. To achieve the nirvana of data readiness, a fine balance needs to be struck between technology and process and culture and skills. Yet 81% of respondents claim their businesses are neglecting either or both of these elements.  

Instilling the right company-wide culture and behaviours is vital for digital transformation. It requires the right mix of leadership engagement and team skill sets so that businesses can fundamentally change the way they think about data and see it as a team sport. This means incentivising employees and teams to innovate with data and revising their structures to ensure they’re set up in a way that allows them to harness their data to drive customer value. 

Acquiring and nurturing new skills is also important because without a team of data-savvy enthusiasts that will treat data as capital, the quality of data becomes moot. Almost half (49%) of respondents said that the data savviness of their staff has decreased or plateaued compared to where it was three years ago – and they are failing to address their capabilities shortages. Businesses need to redouble their efforts to build a data-ready culture across the organisation.  

Clearly, data paradoxes are not just something for the IT department to deal with. These changes must come from the top and many span the organisation, because one thing that’s for sure is that there will be even more data in the future than there is now. It’s accelerating all the time – and if the people don’t change, the skills don’t change, the processes don’t change, and the infrastructure doesn’t change, it’ll be like trying to put ten times more cars on a motorway without adding extra lanes. We’ll have data jams everywhere. 

Dermot O’Connell is Senior Vice President of Dell Technologies Services EMEA specialising in areas from Workforce Transformation and building strategies to get technology to users in a cost-effective way.  Ready for immediate productivity to Multi-Cloud adoption, they also help customers navigate the myriad of choices in Public, Private and Hybrid Clouds with a workload based approach.

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