Bridging the Gap Between Data and Insights

By Chris Miller

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From Facebook feeds and YouTube videos to sales and customer data, individuals and enterprises have become constant generators of digital content. In fact, according to a 2009 blog post by Andreas Weigend in the Harvard Business Review, more data was generated in 2009 than in the entire history of mankind.

This onslaught of data is making it difficult for companies and executives to get the insights they need and make business decisions. It is also putting a strain on IT infrastructure with 55 percent of respondents reporting a slowdown of IT systems in a recent survey commissioned by Avanade. According to the report, conducted by Kelton Research, more than half of business and IT executives report they feel overwhelmed by the amount of data their company manages. And, many report they are often delayed in making important decisions as a result of too much information.

Despite the fact that employees and management are overwhelmed by big data, they are still asking for more, and they want it even faster -- 61 percent of executives say so. And, one-in-three say they desire even more sources of data in order to perform their job better. This desperation for getting the right information to make business decisions is placing more pressure on executives to consume even more data; forming an addiction to data in absence of good business information.

In order to address these challenges and start deriving true business value from all this data, companies must develop a data culture where executives, employees and strategic partners are active participants in managing a meaningful data lifecycle. IT organizations play a key role in making this possible.

Over the last 10 years, IT organizations have really started to morph themselves from just keeping the lights on into true value creation. Providing and maintaining a strong core infrastructure is important but, how does IT add to the business and contribute value? Companies see this happening when IT can provide the tools that enable people to access actionable information that leads to business decisions.

This is one of the key challenges with big data: how do companies identify all the sources and creators of data? How do they filter out the stuff that is not important and then, get into the hands of the people who make decisions?

So what do we do?

Today, most organizations are either in Phase 0 (not even thinking about it) or, they are in the process of trying to identify all their different data sources. Companies are also investigating where (and at what cost) to harness new sources of data. For example, many organizations are looking to invest in customer relationship management (CRM) software to take advantage of new data sources like Twitter, Facebook, etc. In fact, findings show that 67 percent of executives have invested or are seriously considering investing in CRM in the next 12 months.

So how do we get from where we are today to where we want to be? It’s clear many companies lack the basic measures to manage big data, but see huge potential benefits if they can learn to leverage it effectively. Businesses must employ a holistic approach to data management -- a new approach for many -- that focuses on the entire data lifecycle. This will enable businesses to turn data first into usable information and ultimately into true business insights.

A few key steps in the process include:

Identifying: Today, every business is a digital company and every customer or employee is a content producer. The first step to creating business value is to prepare the enterprise to be able to quickly accommodate new data sources, to understand where the data is coming from, who is creating it and where the content lives.

Filtering: The second step is to determine what data is important and what data does not matter and provide tools and data management policies that enable staff to effectively filter data for relevance quickly. It is vital to consider how the company will use the data. Next, companies must identify what filters to apply, how to categorize the data and then, establish processes so that producers (all employees and customers) are more accountable for the data they are creating.

Distributing: Because different data is intended for different levels, locations and business units, companies must utilize a distribution mechanism that is both automated and intelligent.

Applying: Overall, businesses must evolve from data analysis to insight to prediction. Applying the right data in the right case is crucial to this evolution. Some organizations may even find opportunities to monetize data in new ways and create competitive differentiation.

Searching: This is a critical foundation for tackling the big data problem. Companies must introduce comprehensive tools that allow employees to find the right real-time data from across both structured and unstructured sources.

This “data culture” where executives, employees and strategic partners are active participants is crucial for managing a meaningful data lifecycle. Tomorrow’s successful companies will be equipped to harness new sources of data and take responsibility over accurate data creation and maintenance. This enables them to bridge that gap between raw data and business insights.

Chris Miller is the CIO at Avanade. He guides Avanade’s development of technical infrastructure and applications architecture. Chris joined Avanade in 2010 from Accenture, where he focused on ecommerce and high-volume online transaction processing systems in the high-tech, communications, and consumer products industries.