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Digital transformation - key considerations for business leaders

To become more competitive, they need processes that are flexible, integrated, insightful and scalable.

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The pace of technology innovation is accelerating and most companies admit they find it hard to keep up with the latest trends.

MANY businesses today are scrutinising their operations to figure out how to join the digital transformation revolution, not least here in Singapore, with its Smart Nation initiative. According to a recent survey, Singapore ranks first in the Asian Digital Transformation Index, due to its well-developed digital infrastructure, coordinated set of government policies in support of infrastructure development, business use of technology, and entrepreneurship.

Digital transformation is indeed benefiting businesses in Singapore, as 67 per cent of the survey respondents think that the investments have already generated value. In fact, digital transformation efforts have led 78 per cent of firms to change their business model in some way, the report said.

Another study also highlights that business leaders in Singapore, among the respondents surveyed, proved to be highly confident when it comes to digital transformation. Fewer than half of Singapore businesses said that the fear of failure seriously hindered their organisations' digital transformation initiatives, while nearly two in three business leaders said that digital initiatives are creating entirely new business processes and functions that are entirely digital-led - the highest among all countries surveyed.

Businesses today understand that to become more competitive and customer-centric, they need processes that are flexible, integrated, insightful and scalable. They understand harnessing data and infusing business processes with it is the key to success.

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Unfortunately, poor data practices - estimated to cost the US economy US$3 trillion a year - are often overlooked as a key blocker. When it comes to the impact caused by poor data quality, the figures speak for themselves.

To turn that enormous loss into opportunities, CIOs (chief information officers) need to better operationalise data at enterprise scale - putting qualified, clean, reliable data into the hands of more employees for them to analyse and make fast, informed decisions. With the new emphasis on agility through digital transformation, CIOs now have the power to enable rapid change within their businesses by developing digital strategies with data at the core. These leaders have to change the departmental view that data is solely an asset utilised primarily by data scientists, and expand it to encompass data usage by the entire enterprise.

Before CIOs can enable greater insight through self-service, they need to rethink their role within the broader organisation - shifting from simply being a caretaker of utility-type technologies that run the business to being a facilitator that helps users leverage data to gain insights. CIOs and IT leaders need to create a foundational roadmap.

ENSURING DATA INTEGRITY

Corporations have spent years and billions of dollars trying to create better internal data systems by building centralised data warehouses using integration appliances to eliminate data silos. But these efforts focused solely on integrating internal systems and often neglected to include the multitude of cloud, social, IoT, smartphone and other external applications or unstructured data sources that generate massive volumes of information.

As these new external data sets and applications are incorporated into enterprise data lakes, CIOs need to determine the best way to ensure the accuracy and integrity of this data, while also providing broader access to it. Without solid data integrity practices, bad data will continue to thwart a company's digital transformation and hinder its competitiveness.

Bad data practices often lead to hours of lost productivity. You get situations such as "salespeople wasting time dealing with erred prospect data, and service delivery people wasting time correcting flawed customer orders received from sales", as a Harvard Business Review article on bad data described it. "Data scientists spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning data, and IT expends enormous effort lining up systems that 'don't talk'. Senior executives hedge their plans because they don't trust the numbers from finance."

It's time to include those that handle customer data on a daily basis to help maintain its quality. It can no longer be just an IT function. New self-service solutions are equipped with intuitive interfaces such as Excel that make them familiar to non-data experts. Most are capable of automatically recognising common errors in data sets found in email addresses, phone numbers or postal addresses, and guiding users through the necessary actions to correct them.

While keeping information secure and reliable is a top priority, today's IT leaders also need to understand they can no longer afford to be a gatekeeper to a company's data treasure trove. Forward-thinking companies understand that everyone should have access to the corporate information they need to unlock insights that will drive the business forward. They understand there should be no restrictions on data volume, data availability or access.

Because not everyone has a degree in data science, CIOs need to enable access to enterprise data lakes using a variety of easy-to-use, self-service applications and tools that provide data manipulation and analysis expertise to business users. They also need to integrate intelligence into data management applications and workflows to help users better leverage advanced technologies such as machine learning and natural language processing.

Scores of data warehouse projects have failed because business users didn't have access to the data they needed when they needed it nor did they have easy-to-use tools that helped turn that data into insight, which ultimately thwarted the widespread use of data by employees. CIOs seeking digital transformation through business user empowerment must be mindful of these pitfalls and navigate around them to be successful.

FUTURE-PROOF PLATFORMS

The pace of technology innovation is accelerating and most companies admit they find it hard to keep up. Today's organisations need to take advantage of the latest cloud and big data technologies, including Apache Beam, Hadoop, Spark, Redshift, AWS Kinesis and MS Azure, among others, to connect and process data at speed and scale.

When architecting an enterprise data strategy, CIOs need to think about selecting a platform that is flexible, open and can easily integrate with future technologies. Using an open source-based platform helps CIOs avoid lock-in with a single provider and the high resource expenses associated with proprietary software and systems. It also helps ensure your IT backbone will continue to keep pace with rapidly evolving and emerging technologies because open-source products are backed by a global development community that inspects, scrutinises and most importantly, constantly improves their functionality.

With visibility into all parts of a modern business, CIOs can unify business leaders and IT under a clear data roadmap, and be the catalyst for data-driven organisational changes that will help their companies remain competitive.

By ensuring data integrity, providing self-service tools and applications that can be accessed by all, and adopting flexible, future-proof platforms for development, CIOs will have a headstart in achieving their digital transformation goals.

  • The writers are from Talend.
    Jason Bissell is general manager of Asia-Pacific and Japan, and Calvin Hoon is regional VP of sales, Asia-Pacific, at the software company.