Tip

Information management and the role of IT in a big data era: Three tips

Mark Tonsetic, practice manager, CEB
Mark Tonsetic, practice manager, CEBMark Tonsetic

More than 80% of employees in large enterprises rely on data to make critical business decisions. IT organizations are under pressure to enable access to this data at any time, from anywhere, on any device. Additionally, as more employees bring their own devices to the workplace, they'll want to view more corporate data on those devices, creating new integration and usability challenges for IT. What's the role of IT in this big data era?  

Looking out to 2017, CEB anticipates that more corporate IT organizations will expand their information management and integration efforts to deepen the realm of information available to the average employee. Information management will need to expand from core enterprise systems, which roughly half of employees typically use, to unstructured data repositories that are typically hidden within local teams, business lines or the individual employee's desktop.

But enabling increased access to data -- especially big data -- might create more problems than it solves. As corporate data volumes continue to rise, IT departments risk exposing employees to a barrage of data noise, from multiple channels, that paralyzes analysis and delays rather than hastens decision making. Employee computing services will need to develop creative information management solutions to the challenges posed by big, noisy, easily accessed data. Our research shows that CIOs should expect to tackle critical questions pertaining to data usability, the help desk's role in enabling data-driven business decisions and big data's impact on the future of the corporate IT department.

By the numbers: CIO challenges in a big data era

  • More than 80% of employees in large enterprises rely on data to make critical business decisions.
  • A company's ability to realize full value from an information management and analytics initiative increases five-fold if data is not merely accessible but also trusted by employees
  • Less than half of employees believe that data from corporate sources is truly usable.
  • Less than 40% of enterprises have sufficiently mature processes and employee skills to derive value from big data.

Source: CEB's Business Outcomes from Big Data research.

How will we make data not just accessible, but more usable and consumable across a plethora of devices and interfaces?

Usability matters. The likelihood of a company's ability to realize full value from an information management and analytics initiative increases five-fold if data is not merely accessible, but has a level of quality and relevance employees trust. Today, less than half of employees believe that data from corporate sources is truly usable. The challenge for IT organizations is to maintain data usability amid accelerating technology changes in devices and interfaces. Indeed, the consumer model of the lightweight, disposable "app" will, for better or worse, drive changing expectations around how data is delivered to employees. We anticipate that the standard for usability will be a data environment in which employees can access enterprise applications and internal data sources, as well as external data sources. Employees will expect the data to be seamlessly integrated and securely delivered across a portfolio of interfaces at the front-end -- from legacy interfaces to internally or self-provisioned app models. For IT, the critical role will be to provide the integration and security services that can enable this to happen.

How can our support and help desk functions evolve to help employees solve business problems with data (as opposed to merely solving technology problems)?

Even as companies invest eight- and nine-figure sums to derive insight from data streaming in from colleagues, suppliers and customers, our surveys of thousands of employees indicate that less than 40% have sufficiently mature processes and skills to do so. There is an odds-on chance that, right now, someone in your organization is about to make a poor decision based on data that you have paid enormous amounts to gather and assemble.

As employees become more tech savvy, we anticipate that the role of IT in providing conventional break-fix support will diminish and shift from technical to usage expertise.

So, how should companies go about maturing the abilities of the remaining 60%? Certainly, CIOs can enlist their business counterparts to strengthen analytic maturity, but IT can also play a critical role in teaching employees how to work effectively with data. A key place to start is the help desk. As employees become more tech savvy and technologies more intuitive, we anticipate that the role of IT in providing conventional break-fix support will diminish. The role of IT should shift from technical to usage expertise, and the IT help desk should evolve into a cross-functional service desk delivering integrated support for all major, knowledge-intensive functions in the organization.

How would this work? Imagine that an employee contacts the cross-functional service desk asking how to calculate the lifetime value of a specific customer segment. IT's representative would help them locate the right data and analytic tool to use, while a representative from marketing, for instance, would help identify the right analysis to run with the data.

How will big data shift IT's engagement focus as we look to improve the value employee computing delivers?

In a world in which more than 80% of employees are translating data into decisions, senior business leaders cannot adequately represent the data needs and usability preferences of all employee segments. In leading organizations, IT is starting to devote as much time to interacting directly with frontline employees as they are with business leaders to understand where IT needs to overcome productivity roadblocks. This requires different skills from the staff at the IT-business interface; it requires expertise from disciplines such as market research and product development.

Big data has arrived, right at the point where employee computing is undergoing tremendous change. This can present a new competitive advantage for companies if it leads to employee decisions that are more timely, sound and properly motivated. IT teams can play a critical role in capturing that advantage, but only through an evolution in the role and value proposition they present to the enterprise.

Mark Tonsetic is practice manager at research and advisory company CEB.

This was first published in March 2013

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