Data as a Strategic Enabler

Think about technology as a leg of a stool.  A stool with one leg is unable to stand up but when you add two additional legs it becomes a functional tool.  A platform that can be utilized for sitting or for a number of other purposes.  The other two legs of this stool are strategy and organization. 

Ten years ago, IT departments were set up as a centralized group of specialists who supported other departments who utilized technology to improve the business.  It was a true support function where IT staff did not need to understand the workings of the business as long as they could make things work.   However, over time, company employees started becoming much more technically literate.  They had access to technology at their homes and younger employees grew up in a tech enriched environment.  These forces of change are impacting IT departments, both their mission and their organizational structures. 

What has happened is that a lot of the services that historical IT departments were expected to provide has actually been shifted to the operational departments.  A modern IT department has taken on a much more strategic role for the organization where the functions of the IT department determine what the organization can and cannot do.  The IT task has essentially shifted.  Instead of IT providing support for other departments, IT has become the determiner of what the other departments can and cannot do.  This shift has made it critical that the IT department staff understand the business fundamentals of the organization. 

This same shift has also changed the organization structure of companies.  It is imperative that all departments in a company become accustomed to supporting their own tech needs – within the guidelines established by the IT department.  It has also made IT representation a critical issue for any conversation about corporate strategy.  Furthermore, these same winds of change have also changed the way companies are organized and the desired skill mix that is expected from IT staff and for that matter, the tech expectation of every organizational employee. 

These evolutionary pressures on an organization’s structure have not ceased.  Many companies have established data analytics departments and named a chief data officer or possibly a chief data security officer.  The departments and individuals demonstrate the growing importance of data for any organization.  It is expected that over time, every employee within an organization must have some familiarity with the data analytics field in the future.  Children who are currently in school have grown up in a world where data shapes the nature of the way life is lived.  As these children mature and make their way into the workplace, it is expected that they will take their appreciation for a data driven world into the future workplace.  And, like the emergence of technology served to redefine the IT role, the growing importance of data will change the role of today’s data analyst to become a strategic organization.  There will likely be a day when any strategic shift begins with a question about whether the organization’s data assets will be able to support and inform the transformation shift needed to activate such a strategy.     

Any organization must adapt as conditions in the market change or as their employee resources change.  The most challenging changes are those that require changes to the needed employee skill set or changes to the organization.  These changes are so difficult to navigate because they are not isolated and impact the entire organization.  If the organization knows and accepts that the need to change is fast approaching, they can prepare for the change well before the competitors have embraced the issue and put the company at a strategic disadvantage.  Companies must plan for their own data driven organization transformation today, knowing that their future survival may depend on it.