It's all about the data

I was asked by a friend last week if I had any good examples of digital disruption he could purloin for a presentation he was preparing. After giving him a stern warning to avoid any photographs of papal inaugurations, or the mention of "Uber being the world's biggest taxi company", I suggested that two places to look would be the delivery firm DPD and the energy company Ovo.

"Why so?" asked Chris.

I've a hunch that throughout all of the hyperbolic guff spoken about what happening as a result of this nebulous thing "digital", there is one force that is more important than most: the push for customer, clients and consumers to expect transparency from their suppliers and providers. Businesses that get this can stand out from their competition. Too often established organisations really struggle because so much of how they have been designed to operate stems from an opaque mentality - what in the past I've described as a "behind the firewall mindset".

Both Ovo (a new business) and DPD (one established in the 1970s) appear to get this. The way in which they put data at the heart of their customer experience is crucial to how their services operate. Compare that in turn to banks (where as HSBC customers have recently found out, shaky online services combine with little or no communication when things go wrong) or HMRC (did you know you can't view your direct debit details anywhere on their online services? I didn't until last week) and you can see how far these established monoliths have to go to transform themselves.

At the moment, there's so much hype about Big Data and Data Science. But from my experience of many organisations over the past two decades, comparatively few actually manage their 'data data', let alone that of the big variety, with any great rigour. Corporate Data Models, the vital conceptual view of what things might mean in any organisation, are rare beasts that, because they don't directly deliver anything tend to get neglected even when they do exist. If you don't think that semantic data meaning is important in your business, just ask a few different departments what they take concepts like "customer" or "product" to mean, and then have a long, hard think about the validity of data held in those fields in your enterprise repositories.

Without having strong frameworks for data within your organisation, all the rest becomes thin veneer. Data architecture is a very conceptual thing, but without it the management of diverse, loosely coupled services across an enterprise is nigh-on impossible. And meeting client and customer expectations of transparency as a result becomes impossible.


Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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