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.

LA Basin

The Smarter LA Plan

In May, 2021 The City of Los Angeles’s Information Technology Agency (ITA) released their strategic plan, SmartLA 2028.  The plan provides an outline of how the City plans to use technology to efficiently and ethically improve the quality of life for residents, businesses, and visitors. 

The plan properly positions technology as a tool that enables the city to make strides to improve transparency, prepare for natural emergencies, give voice to its constituencies, reduce the environmental footprint, and make the city more efficient from both a process and economic perspective.  Technology, in itself, is not the solution to such complex problems but it can provide the tools required to better address these issues.  The strategic plan lays out both near and long term goals and opens the door for increased collaboration so that Los Angeles can become a beacon, a pathfinder, in its efforts to take on and overcome the challenges faced by Los Angeles today and in the future. 

In reading through the plan, it is notable that historically, cities provided services to citizens. And while a particular service met a need, it required citizens to adapt themselves to take advantage of city services.  The plan laid out by Los Angeles represents a significant shift in thinking.  Rather than the city providing a single solution interface for citizens to utilize (or not), Los Angeles is embracing the idea that its diverse constituencies have different needs.  Therefore, the city must provide different mechanisms to support its citizens.  Transportation is not strictly a matter of providing roads and assuming everyone has a car.  The City must support metro, rail, bike, and shuttle service as a complement to the network of roads so residents can choose the option that best fits their needs.  This technology plays an important role in making the selection of a transportation option as frictionless as possible. 

Similarly, the city provides many ways to disseminate and otherwise interact with citizens to ease interactions in a way that is convenient for the citizen.  For example, citizens can interact with the city on a range of topics via phone, text, a mobile app, kiosks, or via the internet.

A component of the SmartLA plan calls for the City to adapt to the citizen’s lifestyle rather than asking the citizens to conform to the City processes.  The plan also describes the intent to make the City more proactive rather than reactive.  Los Angeles has always strived to be supportive of citizen service needs but the expected tech tools will create the data required to allow the City the capability of anticipating needs.   For example, the City will be able to identify roads in need of maintenance so they can schedule the repairs before its citizens have flagged a road as a resident identifiable priority.  Such anticipatory detection of conditions benefits the City’s residents by improving their quality of life AND because the actions driven can be scheduled in advance, it also reduces costs when compared to a series of ad hoc repair activities.

Many of these technological advances are necessary to support the city’s efforts to ready itself for the 2028 Olympics.  During the 2017 Olympics, Rio saw an influx of 1.17M tourists over a two week period.  To smoothly support this influx of tourists while continuing to support local residents and businesses, the City will rely on new and emerging technologies that can also be utilized to support its citizens both before and after the Olympics.  As these systems materialize, there will be improvements that benefit community health services,  acceleration of regional economic development, enhancement of emergency services support, and a reduction energy costs.

A copy of the SmartLA plan, can be downloaded here  https://ita.lacity.org/sites/g/files/wph1626/files/2021-05/SmartLA2028%20-%20Smart%20City%20Strategy.pdf