Finding islands of value in the vast ocean of data

Data is everywhere – instantaneously available from a multitude of sources. But how can you use it to make relevant business decisions?

Think about your automobile or that new device you received over the holidays. They are all collecting reams of raw data and much of it is valuable.

My son’s car collects data continuously, and he can access information relevant to him on his phone, while the manufacturer gets information on the health and well-being of the car. All of the data is collected from the same components and turned into valuable information in the process.

But think about corporate IT for a moment. Why does it often take some IT organizations so much time to get consistent and relevant information to business executives?

Following a speech at the ISACA North American ISRM Conference last year, a senior IT manager of a healthcare company and I discussed that one of his largest complaints was having lots of data, but not real information – in other words, information delivered in a format that helps drive business decisions supporting the organization’s financial goals, health-relevant information and so on.

In short, his business’s primary issue is that business executives simply don’t have the correct information presented in a format that empowers them to quickly make decisions. Summing the situation up nicely, he said, “We have an ocean of data, but users have problems finding the value islands.”

Ironically complicating the issue, business leaders demand dashboards to deliver timely, readily consumable information (ever increasingly via a tablet), further supporting and justify their taking immediate, relevant and powerful decisions driving business outcomes.

So what’s the problem?

Throughout my career, CIOs have typically focused on “technology” and “technology outcomes” (and of late “services”) in their reporting. So the result has become information focused on “IT” with minimal alignment to the overall business health and delivery as well as the “value” they are providing.

Don’t get me wrong – technology-focused information is critical to the IT organization. But the value to the business is an integrated approach to collecting data and delivering it in a format the business can consume.

So in today’s application economy, where there is total dependence on technology for business outcomes, IT must continue to evolve and be able to report to the business in business-relevant metrics.

For instance, the power company charges you by the commonly recognized kilowatt hour, and they understand the cost for generation as a key metric.

Similarly, airlines use cost per seat per mile as a standard industry benchmark metric along with numerous others, and they are all extremely relevant and supportive of the business outcome:

• Total cost per passenger per air mile

• Revenue per passenger per air mile

• Number of passengers versus number of available seats

• IT spend per employee

• IT spend as a percentage of the total cost per passenger

• Total revenue per flight

• Total number of minutes of flight time lost due to IT related failures

• Average cleaning and catering time per plane type.

Business outcomes – once clearly defined and agreed upon – then need the relevant data sources identified to support the metrics being measured and reported against.

Once the benchmarks have been established and the data is collected then you can move to the next level of maturity – leveraging the information for trends, predictive outcomes and more importantly new business opportunities.

With a business-led focus on benchmarks, metrics and sources, it is possible to find the real value islands in a vast ocean of data.


Robert Stroud is VP of innovation and strategy for IT Business Management at CA Technologies.…

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