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Not quite ready for prime time

Not quite ready for prime time 

EMC’s Outlook Report, produced by the Institute for the Future, interviewed 3,600 C-level business leaders in 18 countries. The findings of the report indicate that most of the executive respondents admitted that they were not prepared to manage or meet the demands of customers in the digital era.

According to the results, only 9 per cent used agility to innovate. In addition, 14 per cent demonstrated transparency, and 11 per cent were able to deliver personalized customer experiences and operate in real time. Furthermore, while most enterprises see the value in using data, only 30 per cent act upon it in real time, and 24 per cent consider themselves very good at converting data into helpful insights.

Those results are shockingly low, indicating that there is room for improvement. Meeting customer demands is a key factor in developing and maintaining relationships, and failure to do so could be detrimental to this, not to mention a company’s bottom line. In addition, it’s one thing to collect customer information, but it’s another to know what will be done with it.

“The main thing I hear from the (executives) here in Canada with regards to that is that they don’t really have a good idea about the (customer) information they’re collecting, what it is, and what they’re doing with it,” says Mike Sharun, Country Manager for EMC Canada.

“If you don’t know about the lifecycle of information within your own organization, how long you’re keeping it, where it is and where you’re gathering it from, no one really wants to stand up and say they know all about the information that’s there and they know how to leverage it to improve the business.”

An old adage states that if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. It is fully possible for business managers to prepare to deal with what could become an onslaught of data. But in order to properly prepare for this, they first need to figure out how the information will be managed before using it to help advance the business.

“When you start out, you first have to figure out how you’re going to manage this onset of information and how you’re actually going to use it to generate profit and gain a competitive advantage moving forward,” Sharun explains.

“It really becomes important that you start taking that human element of management out of it and you start putting in the right level of automation so you can scale with that information. If you can scale and automate the policies around it, then you’re going to provide yourself with a framework through which you can exploit it.”

Over the past few years, companies have become data-collecting powerhouses. If data can be obtained on a certain area, it most likely will be. The data-driven business model is making serious inroads within the industry, and the resulting action from executives is to get in on the ground floor and quickly adopt it.

“The main reason for (adopting the data-driven model) is we’ve put more (intelligence) into things that are around us,” says Sharun. “All of the information that’s being gathered from everything we do is delivering some sort of measurement back to a data bank or a company.”

Product developers are weaving intelligent elements into basic home appliances, including televisions, refrigerators and thermostats. Unlike their predecessors, these devices learn about the usage habits and custom settings specified by their users, and calibrate themselves accordingly. This, says Sharun, represents a departure from the analog-based format of data collection that was de rigueur in the past.

“In the past, it was much more analog-driven, where people would talk on the phone and exchange information face-to-face. Now we’re doing it through devices,” Sharun says. “All of that is giving us this digital footprint that really defines a lot of our persona. Today, we’re defined more by what we look like digitally and less by our physical appearance.”

C-level executives may always at the forefront of their enterprise’s daily operations, but they are also on the lookout for new business opportunities. Or so most people might think. According to the report, only 12 per cent of business leaders can spot new opportunities, a statistic that is severely hindering their progress.

“I think the one thing that we’re still a bit behind in is that we have not put a lot of effort into how we take the information we obtain and use it for what we’re doing in the future,” says Sharun, adding that having a data scientist on board can help with this issue.

“The role of the data scientist is one that is always evolving. They can put together algorithms to go in and make certain relationships between certain levels of data. That, I think, is the role we are missing,” he says.

“We don’t have enough people who know enough about IT and the business around the company they’re in to really get those kinds of insights into where they need to go. We will get better at it, but until we do, I think we’re going to be a little short in what we can accomplish.”

All things considered, the outlook for the future is certainly not bleak. It may take some time, but Sharun believes it’s certainly possible for executives to overcome the obstacles of data management and meeting customer demands.

“I think we’re going to get better because it’s going to become more mainstream as we move forward. Right now, the companies that are becoming very successful are the ones that know how to take information and monetize it,” he says.

“Not all companies have that expertise, and the reason why is because there are not enough people to go around. Until we have enough critical mass, it will be hard for C-level executives to really increase that preparedness, but there are more people getting involved in that part of the business on a daily basis.”

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