Like a gym membership, data has no value unless you use it

Vice President of Growth, IBM Analytics, IBM

You can be that person. The one that purchases a gym membership as part of a new year’s resolution to get fit. The one who goes at least three times a week, takes up yoga, plays in the social basketball league, and has a new level of energy to try new sports and family activities on the journey to a new, healthier life. Work, holidays, taking the kids to Little League, and vacations never get in the way. You know you can be just like that person, get fit and try new things, but you worry you won’t use that gym membership enough and that only your bank account gets exercised, and only the gym owner reaps the value.

Data is like that gym. How much you use it, how well you exercise and apply it, and how far it reaches into your work life determine the value return from having it.  And just like the treadmill, your data won’t deliver significant benefits to your organization from one time use. The value from data starts with its first use and increases with each additional use. The more you put it to work, the better the outcome.

When we look at all the uses of data organizations can embark upon, they fall into four main exercise groups of increasing benefit. Let’s go through each in turn and assess where your organization is in its journey to a healthier business.

1. Efficiency: Look at price/performance to lower the cost of data management for your back-office and operational systems.

You want to optimize how you deal with data and content generated as a byproduct of applications and your business processes. Think of this as the basic level of fitness you need before you try some new exercise classes.

Every organization is looking to reduce the cost of data storage and management, gain performance improvements from data systems, and free up investment for other initiatives by gaining operational efficiency.

Assess the data infrastructure underpinning your back office systems such as ERP, Billing and Order Management, and your enterprise content strategy. Are you happy with the price/performance? Can you uncover opportunities to consolidate, gain efficiency, or benefit from cloud?

Here your main task is to identify the places to better manage multiple workloads while reducing administration, storage, development and server costs.

2. Modernization: Accelerate your digital transformation by taking advantage of open source and cloud for innovation.

You have access to lots of data sources inside and outside your organization, and want to use that data and content to gain visibility into how your business is doing. Think of this as joining new exercise classes now that you have the basic fitness to participate and benefit.

Many organizations are rethinking their data warehouses or building data lakes to capitalize on a greater variety of data sources, from operational systems to external data, unstructured and streaming data, so they gain a fuller picture of their business in the context of the world around them. Sensor data, videos, weather and social data are a few examples of new data sources that need to be incorporated and made available. Organizations are also facing increasing demand for data from the business, causing a growing IT backlog and siloed data sets and discovery tools.

Assess whether you have a solid data foundation for decision-making processes with business intelligence programs, and better manage the flow of information in business processes versus passing paper back and forth. Are you capitalizing on all possible data? Is your current data warehouse meeting your needs? What are your data lake plans with Hadoop and cloud? Are you comfortable with the quality and governance of your data?

Here your main task is to develop the data architecture, data catalog and governance to deliver the next level of data availability, accessibility and content management needed to manage and monitor the business.

3. Democratization: Provide every employee access to data and insight-driven business advantage. Use self-service to access data and apply advanced analytics to exploit opportunities in every part of your business.

You want yourself and others to have easy access to data and benefit from applying data science so everyone can make better decisions, take more effective actions, and improve outcomes. On your journey to a healthier lifestyle, your fitness regime is now a team sport where everyone is participating, and each team member benefits from the other’s involvement, snowballing benefits. that succeed here enable every employee to have self-service and easy access to uncover new insights and opportunity. This regime could be used to make risk-aware decisions, fight fraud, counter threats or optimize operations, but it most often centers on attracting, growing and retaining customers. The insight gained is in the context of full dataset analytics. It may use non-relational and real-time data or content, plus data science to uncover hidden patterns, find root causes, predict what is going to happen, and prescribe what to do next. These organizations use data and insight to make better decisions.

Assess whether your employees have the information and the self-service analytics they need to make informed, unbiased decisions. Do you need a data science program established or expanded? What systems or parts of the business would benefit from real-time data and decisions? Can they easily bring data together, trust it, and comply with policy around that new use of data?

Here your main task is to equip yourself and a growing set of data-hungry professionals with data science and the ability to learn, collaborate and create new insight.

4. Monetization: Launch new business models or develop captivating new apps for competitive advantage.

This is where you become data-driven as an organization. You seek out new opportunities, launching new businesses or reinventing business models and applications founded on data and heavily reliant on data science built in to the very process or business foundation. Analytics and operations blend together into analytics-driven business. Machine learning and cognitive systems create competitive edge. Now you are fit, and your focus shifts from working on your fitness to benefiting from that fitness to stretch yourself to do things that simply weren’t possible before. This often requires a cultural shift, outside-in thinking, outside expertise.   Think of this regime as often requiring a personal trainer who has the expertise and the game plan to help shape your success.

Organizations that take this on see exponential value from data as it shifts from being a byproduct of conducting business to being the shaping force of the business. For example, they are moving ahead with demand-based pricing, predictive maintenance, driverless cars, autonomous thermostats, personal fitness apps and innovative customer engagement models.

Assess where cognitive systems could aid the digital transformation initiative in your organization. Is there opportunity to work with suppliers and partners to reshape your industry?   Can you create new value in how you engage with customers? Is it time to re-think your organization’s core offerings, or to reposition as your industry shifts?

Here your main task is to use data and data science as the catalyst to ignite new business ideas that create growth opportunities and see them to fruition.

In conclusion

It’s simple. The more you put data to work in your organization, the better the outcome. Create new value by expanding the use of data beyond IT hands to include everyone in the business. Progress your journey as you shift from data as a byproduct to data driving everything you do. And become a data-driven culture where you think data first and use data as the basis for transformation.

Using data is like fitness. The fitter you become, the more you do – the more is possible. It is time for your organization to put data to work for a fitter, healthier business.  Where are you in your journey to exploit the full value of data? What data regime are you going to pick to work on? Wherever you choose to start, IBM has a personal trainer program in the IBM DataFirst Method to help you get on the right track to exceeding your goals.

Fast track your data and secure your competitive advantage with machine learning. Register for the June 22nd livestream.