June 29, 2020

Building digital transformation on strong foundations

It’s mid-2020 and despite, or in some cases accelerated by, the COVID-19 pandemic, technology advancement is everywhere – 5G being rolled out in British cities empowering IoT devices, Machine Learning models driving ever more accurate Predictive Analytics of human behaviour and “AI”, which means many things to many people, being hailed across all sectors.  Decision-makers are increasingly benefiting from insights derived from technology and digital transformation initiatives which are underway across industry and government.  The future is bright!   

How do we ensure these shining towers of technology are built on strong foundations and can deliver the promised benefits? 

The foundation to all digital transformation is the data.  Without solid data foundations, the benefits of advanced technologies and the opportunities for lasting business transformation are easily lost.  Many large organisations have vast volumes of data spread across IT estates that have grown organically over many years, encompassing everything from cloud-based services, to on-premises enterprise systems and bespoke single-purpose applications, and of course the much-loved Excel.  Drawing together these disparate data sets to form a strong foundation for digital transformation is both a technological and a behavioural challenge. 

The technological solutions to link or extract data from siloed data stores, to combine enterprise and Excel-based sources, to ingest printed text, to deal with different frequencies and latencies of data feeds, to control access and apply rigorous governance to data sets are all well-understood and form the backbone of any systems integration activity.  That isn’t to say the technological challenge is easy, but it is only part of the transformation journey. 

An organisation’s ability to overcome behavioural challenges can determine the success or failure of their digital transformation.  Data must be viewed and treated as a valued and shared business asset and members of the organisation should feel motivated to preserve and improve data quality.  Every data asset within an organisation has an owner who needs to be identified and engaged in the transformation, requiring a blend of digital and organisational focus.  Then there are the data custodians, stewards and stakeholders to work with, encouraging providers and consumers of data to show concern for its welfare and giving them the tools and technology to ensure data quality by default.  If an organisation can define clear and straightforward governance, access, security, and quality controls and embed these in the processes and tools that support the collection, maintenance, consumption and analysis of data, this will deliver a solid basis for success. 

A digital transformation which improves both technology and behaviours will bring about lasting change and move an organisation along the path towards that bright future. 

Author: Ewen Malloch, Head of Technology.