Data visibility core to business transformation

A recent roundtable on business transformation showed that IT and data is now at the core of organisational change. It is no longer a back-office function, this represents a fundamental shift.

Many forward-thinking organisations, whether in response to the Covid-19 pandemic or in a bid to up their game in competitive sectors, are embarking on some form of business transformation. Right now, this aligns with digital transformation, because innovations in IT, as well as data visibility, are core to a successful business strategy.

The shift to online services and digital products, as well as empowering IT departments to provide them, has been palpable over the last 18 months. CEOs now see CTOs and CIOs as their primary partners in driving innovation. In the process, those heading up IT departments must prove their business and operational value and worth through their technology investments.

“Businesses are changing how they operate. Many organisations can now see most of their business digitally. The only thing that is compatible throughout the business is data,” says Mark Woods, chief technical adviser for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Splunk. “There is now a real drive to increase visibility, not just how you resolve individual problems, but how you start to understand your business end-to-end.”

The issue with business transformation is that organisations have to operate and change at the same time. Many in finance, healthcare, and other more traditional sectors, also have legacy IT systems they must continue to work with. Both these factors can lead to more siloed data as elements of an organisation continue to digitalise, not less. It’s a conundrum that some are having to reconcile.

“We’ve taken on a hugely ambitious job to build 25m full fibre broadband connections. But in order to fulfil this by 2026, we have to automate. We are taking processes that were historically paper-based and converting those into tablet and app-based solutions. Digital and data is becoming a necessity if you want the business outcomes to happen at the pace they need to,” says Colin Lees, chief technology and information officer at Openreach.

Data is the new oil in business transformation

Data, now, is being used for governance and organisational control, rather than purely for business processes, a shift that is enriching decision-making. Organisations are also using greater amounts of external data to inform strategies. IT can no longer be in the back office.

“Traditional banks have come to a point now where, we’ve all got digital products, but are we running digital banks? Have we digitised everything end-to-end, that’s the next step in the journey. It’s a change from a cultural perspective. It effects how you work and what you work on,” says Gavin Munroe, global chief information officer for wealth and personal banking at HSBC.

There in lies the rub, business and organisational transformation, with informed data at the core, and at scale, is a significant project that can’t be solved with a new app, widget or a short-term project from the IT department. However, organisations are demanding change and at pace.

We now need to figure out how to use data to engage with our customer in different ways. We want to move to a more proactive engagement with the customer

“The challenge is the investment. It is very easy to justify money for say product X needs to move to digital so it will be better. To say to a business, we need to understand how the organisation operates and how that change affects us end-to-end is a bigger issue, it may get nods around the boardroom, but then becomes very challenging to put that in as a business case,” says Woods.

However, the potential for cloud-driven solutions and end-to-end visibility, where data across an organisation provides valuable insights driving productivity, profitability, better services, operations and strategy is well known. It helps that IT solutions have also been the saviour for some organisations during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has given us absolute focus. A lot of the success has come from the new tech we’ve invested in, where it’s been built on cloud it’s been fantastic,” says Mark Reynolds, interim chief technology officer at NHS Digital. For instance, the NHS website had an estimated 873m visits in 2020, with some of the highest number of views ever, while the NHS App has seen a 912% increase in users.

Reynolds adds: “The issue is can we demonstrate further value through digital services. As digital professionals I think we need to shout out about fixing the things that are unseen, because you tend to depend on them in extremis.”

Data and digital now centre stage
for operations

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated the digital roadmap for many organisations. It has emphasised the importance of being more agile, the push for short-term change, and the long-term need to transform organisations for the better. For some, it has allowed them to finally put digital and data capabilities at the core of their operations.

“The opportunity is that a lot of customers have moved to digital that weren’t there before. The pandemic has broken down barriers. It is up to us to keep them on digital. We’ve taken our standalone digital division and embedded it into our business to be one team,” says Munroe. “We now need to figure out how to use data to engage with our customer in different ways. We want to move to a more proactive engagement with the customer. For that we are trying to define the use cases. Open banking is also driving this.”

The fact is when data visibility is at the core of an operation it allows organi- sations to drive real business change. Louise Bunting, chief information officer of Yondr Group, adds: “For us the challenges are not what you can achieve technically, it is what your boundaries are creatively. And that mix of functional and technical skills is very hard to find in people; that person in the middle is also very hard to recruit and retain because they are unicorns.”

Woods says: “The next transformation is going to be a data transformation. Data can be leveraged in new ways that businesses have not even thought about yet. This is where true revolution is likely to occur.”

The next 18 months therefore offers many possibilities opportunities. But, it will depend on having the right people, systems and technology in place.

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