Prepare for a data brawl

IBM's new boss, Ginni Rometty says a data revolution is here and companies need to find the trends and follow the numbers or perish.

Just two months into the top job at IBM, Ginni Rometty is speaking of a “new era” in computing and it’s a  shift that businesses big and small should be preparing for now.

Delivering her first keynote address to IBM’s annual PartnerWorld conference in New Orleans overnight, Rometty said she’d spent her first 60 days as chief executive speaking to 100 other CEOs to get their thoughts on how their IT needs are changing.

The first insight she picked up from her meetings is that CEOs are increasingly saying that they need to shift decision making from the back office to the front office. This isn’t just a symptom of the shift towards mobility for consumers and employees, but also an increasing recognition that smart computing power is better in the hands of someone who’s with a client or a supplier than with an IT professional or management personnel at head office.

That means that systems and devices need to be friendlier for users – think Apple’s rise as a business supplier – but also chief information officers must become far more visual within and organisation and adopt some of the responsibilities of an operations officer. They aren’t confined to the bowels of an organisation.

This shift is a consequence of what Rometty chooses to call the “millennium generation”. It’s a generation of increasingly connected consumers and workers that interact with each other and their organisations in more ways than just the front desk.

Just imagine the ways you can make a complaint about a company, choose a social network device and each of them is now a new avenue. The difference is that much of the interactions that are taking place between users can now be intercepted by an organisation. Word of mouth has gone digital and it can often be measured and intercepted.

This is but one aspect of a digital world creating volumes of data. Just how much data is being created at any given time is up for dispute, but a good rule of thumb is it’s increasing by a factor of ten every five years.

Remember, most of the data being created in the world is completely irrelevant to each organisation and created outside it – think Twitter. While it might be tempting to ignore this and simplify your operations, competitors will be sifting through this data to gain a competitive advantage. Indeed, in her words, Rometty says the CEOs believe “data will separate the winners and losers in every single industry”.

(These are her words and it should be pointed out that, thanks to IBM’s emphasis on business analytics, this observation carries great riches for her company.)

Of course this data isn’t about just tweets and Google hits, but about all the points you can extract information from your company and sector.

Now, all the data in the world isn’t worth much if you can’t extract any value from it and organisations need to think about that. 

Companies may invest in having significant mobility that looks good to their employees and customers and collate all the data it likes on the most expensive servers it can find. But without the presence of reliable, responsive systems around those front office sites and knowing how to consistently extract value they will just end chasing their tails.

There’s a lot of digital stuff out there and it’s the players that can take advantage of it will win the greatest rewards. This pattern will continue indefinitely, but the skill of picking a trend from this increasingly complex pool of information is at the core of an organisation’s ability to reinvent itself.

IBM has reinvented itself many times over its 100-year history and will have to continue to do so with Hewlett Packard now conceding that it has to in some way adopt its rival's business model of less hardware and more strategic consulting.

Alexander Liddington-Cox travelled to PartnerWorld as a guest of IBM.