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The most common challenge we face, is the challenge that shouldn’t even exist

Recently McKinsey Global Institute published a report called “Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity”. They argue quite strongly for the impact organizations of the world can create for themselves by leveraging the data resources they have available. E.g. they argue that retailers can improve their operating margins with up to 60%! Another interesting number is the EUR 250 billion potential annual value to Europe’s public sector by levering the value of (big) data.

In short, data matters.

And it matters in a big way. So what’s stopping us – why don’t we just go and reap the benefits? McKinsey mention a couple of the reasons. One being the severe shortage of skilled people. Just in the US where they estimate a lack of 140.000-190.000 people with deep analytical skills plus 1.5 mill. managers and analyst required to digest and make decisions on big data.

But I think there is an even more basic challenge. To understand this all we have to do is look at the challenges that we together with our clients run into every day. Examples being that we can’t accurately identify a customer across a company’s commerce channels; we have no corporate tradition for establishing let alone enforcing common definitions and business rules, e.g. what is a customer? Instead we have at least one definition per business process using the data (and these are usually ambiguous). The IT landscape was never engineered for what it looks like today – it sort of just happened. Accountabilities for data are usually unclear. Ask which system holds the authoritative version of our product data (or any other data) and you will usually get more than one answer. Till this day most standard applications are designed to exist in their own right from a data point of view, not to integrate in an IT landscape where data is a shared resource. Look for the strategy for levering information as a strategic asset and you generally won’t find it.

So here we are after 50 years of business and IT evolution with highly siloed and immensely complicated IT landscapes with all sorts of legacy constrains preventing us from levering the value of the data that resides there.

When you think about it, it shouldn’t be like that. Those kinds of challenges shouldn’t even be there. Yet they are – and the simple explanation is that in the decades gone by, we didn’t have the necessary foresight to prevent the challenges we face today.

But, you might argue: In hindsight you always see things clearly. And yes that is true. But then again that would mean that you acknowledge that mistakes were made and things should have been done differently. And surely that would mean that any decision being made today would prevent the challenges around information being leveraged as a strategic asset from growing bigger?

Unfortunately that is a picture I cannot recognize from our many projects around the world. Decisions around data are still very short sighted and many projects seem to be adding to the list of challenges that shouldn’t even exist. At Platon we are out there influencing the market and stakeholders to think differently, more long term, helping our clients to make the hole they stand in smaller and not bigger. But we are just one voice amongst millions with all kinds of different agendas.

And this is where you come in – we need to unite and speak as with one voice: Information is an enterprise asset and it can be strategic if leveraged correctly, but it requires determination, persistence and investment. To me it all starts and stops with answering the question: “How can information be a strategic asset to this organization?” If that becomes clear then we have the right foundation to make the right choices, one step at a time removing challenges that shouldn’t even be there, and preventing new ones from being created.

Einstein once said that “the problem with common sense, is that it is not that common” 🙂


About Kjell Wittmaack

Kjell Wittmaack is an industry expert and thought leader within the field of Information Management. As Partner Mr. Wittmaack heads up the advisory practice globally for Platon – the leading independent Information Management consulting company. Mr. Wittmaack advises clients across industries on Information Management issues, linking challenges, business strategy and practical execution. He is a frequent acknowledged speaker and panelist at conferences around the world.

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