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How's the CIO doing? It's in the data...

How are CIO's processing the changing data game? Graeme Thompson, SVP and CIO of Informatica investigates. 

Would you believe that my CFO walked into my office today and asked, “How'm I doing? Hey, are we aligned?” Or that the head of sales came in a half-hour later and asked the same thing? Of course you wouldn't. They don't operate that way. Yet we CIOs seem to run around worrying about that all the time, chasing “IT-Business alignment” and trying to earn, or validate, a “seat at the table.”

But I would argue that today CIOs do have a seat at the table and play one of the most critical and leading roles in driving organisational transformation through digital transformation. Why? Digital transformation.

As digitalisation moves from an abstract term to a central part of the business strategy, CIOs are being called on to provide strategic insight and leadership in new ways. And as we grapple with the simultaneous chaos of “cloud journeys,” SaaS sprawl, mobility challenges and the speed with which IT needs to respond to the market, one theme runs through it all: data.

If the central hypothesis of the digital transformation is that new markets can be created and competitive advantages gained by becoming a digital business, then the foundation of that digital business is data. Good data fuels it all—or bad, incomplete, poorly formatted data sabotages it all. Data factors strongly into the success of every initiative, and the only person that has enterprise-wide visibility into the data and the applications and processes that create it is the CIO.

Undercooked data leaves a bad taste

One of the biggest obstacles faced on the road to digital transformation is that our data isn't always very good. When the data's bad, we may try to dress it up. BI reporting can amount to frosting on the cake, meant to make un-validated data look appetising. But if the cake is dry, if the data quality is poor, what good is a layer of pretty frosting? That's why decades of investment in business intelligence have largely been disappointing for organisations: The underlying data isn't good enough. Yet it's that very data that holds the value.

"One of the biggest obstacles faced on the road to digital transformation is that our data isn't always very good"

Before joining Informatica, in my eight years at Oracle we acquired about a hundred companies.  In every case, we turned off the applications our newly acquired company had spent millions to build or buy; but we kept the data. It told us about their install base, the maintenance value of the renewal base and how their customers got value from their products. It was rich, dense, delicious cake.

Data drives digitalisation

We can't keep forecast data locked up in one place, sales data in another, customer support data somewhere else and marketing's data tucked somewhere else. Good luck delivering a coherent, personalised customer experience. We must move past silos, past data as a secondary (at best) consideration.  Successful CIOs are focused on secure access to all the data, no matter where it sits, and ensuring it’s not only high quality, it is also reliable, trusted, in a format that can be used and reused; even for purposes we haven't thought of yet.

Understanding the power of data with a passion for unlocking its potential is exactly what drew me to Informatica. I've seen the way that data both presents opportunities to organisations and leads IT groups to make some pretty dreadful mistakes. The idea of being part of the solution, and helping more IT teams drive real, enterprise-wide data excellence, struck me as the best way to be at the heart of the current, exciting IT transformation.

For my fellow CIOs, regardless of industry, this data challenge represents an opportunity to be even more central to the company's strategy. It's a way to stop chasing the illusive “alignment” unicorn and make real contributions the enterprise needs. Focusing on the data, across and beyond the enterprise, is the only way to help the business get the full picture. This is not the time to be nervous about our role in the organisation - it's time for us to seize the opportunity and own the outcomes!

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