Monday, August 08, 2016

Data, data everywhere but what do we do with it ?

“Can we do something with Machine Learning, Neural Networks, Deep Learning, Artificial Intelligence, to be better than our competitors or disrupt the market ? We are growing faster than the average, but I constantly fear where the disruption will come from to our industry”. Thus spoke a technophile CEO of a mid-sized multinational company. They had grown inorganically acquiring brands, products, and small companies in growth markets to grow and increase their product portfolio to stay relevant to their customers.

It is an exciting time to be in the technology world with technology at the center of almost every disruptive thought and asset light digital business model. It is an exciting time to be a consumer with everyone bending over backwards wanting to provide offers and promotions on anything and everything. It is indeed an exciting time to be an entrepreneur with unimaginable ideas beginning to take root and come into the realm of possibilities with fast evolving technology allowing for rapid prototyping and success.

It is a mobile first world where everyone wants their App on your phone, send you notifications, read your address book, track your location, and gather petabytes of data to analyze to eternity. Data is everywhere, it always was, though not in a form that could be capture effectively, assimilated and explored. Technology has evolved allowing semblance of sense out of stray wisps of information in the large volume of data to form pictures and scenarios; newer insights, action items progressively improving outcomes.

Big data is getting bigger, analytical tools are evolving rapidly, compute is getting faster, storage and retrieval quicker, and business hungrier for data driven insights. Democratization of technology and availability of tools creates a perception of easy pickings which continues to add to shelf ware for the IT organization. CIOs are being pushed to create new centers of excellence or hire skills that will help make the business grow faster and more profitable; consultants are filling in the gaps across the value chain with limited value delivered.

Internal innovation and new ideas are nurtured in few enterprises, this was not one of those; the company had always rewarded subservient behavior with stray incidents of brightness escaping attention. With a cautious approach to every spend in the past, managers were unable to rise to the occasion fearing being snubbed. The technology organization had decent set of tools, they were well aligned to operational IT requirements, but limited expertise and ability to shift gears into a new level of thinking and execution.

The CEO threw the challenge to the management team to come up with a plan on how the company can break away from the normal. Two quarters later there had not made any significant progress or breakthroughs. The CEO thus hired a global top consulting company to help create the roadmap for digital disruption. After three months of Workshops, brainstorming sessions, offsite and many weeks spent in conference rooms, the exercise was declared complete and the management team invited to unveiling of the new strategy.

Sounds familiar ? This is the story of almost every enterprise where information is consumed in reports from traditional ERP systems or data dumps massaged in spreadsheets. Scores of reports with columns represented in different places or one additional data element make up the repository of analysis. Smattering of dashboards at Board Meetings, Investor Conferences, and external presentations represents the visual data creation and consumption. People love their prints but also want tablet computers !

A big hole in the pocket, they had a document with multiple streams and action items; teams were created and tasked to generate new customers, markets, and disrupt competition. The consultants stayed on to oversee execution and find faults; they churned dashboards, progress reports, control towers, to keep telling the management why they had still not achieved the desired results. A year later and a bigger hole in the dwindling treasury, breakthrough success continued to elude them as competition grew fiercer.

A new age company CEO reaffirmed the hypothesis that data is the future lode mine proclaiming they generated and consumed a petabyte of information daily. His business added new revenue streams every quarter, evolving with consumer demand while shaping the market. His company had redefined the industry becoming the benchmark, taking calculated risks and staying close to the ground through the journey. He did not scoff at the old, he just decided to create a new path giving his team freedom to explore.

Can old age companies emulate such examples ? There are a few examples, but still a few; survival is not threatened for most, relevance probably is !

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