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Forbes: Drowning In Data


Forbes recently sat down to interview IBM Senior Vice President Steve Mills.  As the title suggests, in the first part of this two-part interview, the questions focused on how companies are "drowning in data," and IBM's view on what companies need to do to make sense of that data, to do things like obtain a single view of their customers, and how they can put in place a strategy - an Information Agenda - and take advantage of specific solutions to move from drowning to succeeding because of their use and understanding of their data.

I've included a few key excerpts below; please see the full article for more of the Q&A.

Forbes: What can companies do with IT now that they couldn't do before?

Steve Mills: One of the themes we're bringing to the market is that our customers need to have an information agenda. They have accumulated massive amounts of digitized information, and they're adding more. How do you leverage all of that? There is numerical data, but there is also digitized text-based information, images and audio. What is your architecture and game plan to maximize all of this? In some cases it's about how to share it. In others, it's about ensuring it's consistent. Many companies have too much data of a disparate nature--same topic, different representation. Do they have one version of the truth in their company? Are they effectively capturing it so they can analyze how their business is operating?

Most CIOs are overloaded and besieged by data. What you're suggesting is redefining how a business is run.

You redefine how the business is run in the short term. You clean up the clutter, improve the structure of the data and make it more useful, and line your architecture up around a common set of definitions and structures so you can do effective analysis. For a lot of CIOs, their problem is clutter. They have a hard time determining what the problem is. They have duplicates and derivative data, which is the even bigger problem. If you have five ways of looking at the same thing, you struggle to figure out which one is right. They want to improve their supply chain, do a better job in manufacturing, optimize their sales activity and do a better job of up-selling and cross-selling to customers. For all of that you need a better view. This idea of having an information agenda is what we're talking to clients about. The good news is we can capture any data anywhere. The cost of storing and managing that data has come down dramatically, and the ability to apply very sophisticated analytic tools against that data has improved. This is both hardware and software. It's high-bandwidth communications and high-performance computing that have become much more economical.

In the future, will the competitive advantage come from being able to actually make sense of that data?

Absolutely, and in real time. If you assume that you can capture all the data, put it in the right format, map it to the structures of the company and you have good analytics tools to understand that data in real time, you will be able to make better decisions to optimize your company whether that's revenue-generating capabilities or operational areas to contain costs.

Let's go back a step. How do companies effectively clean out the clutter?

If you look at a large bank, they have a whole set of product offerings ranging from retail banking to brokerage. They have various private customer relationships--trust, annuities and insurance. You may have a variety of accounts, but do they know you as one person? Do they have a master customer view of you so they can up-sell and cross-sell? For most major banks, the answer is, "No, that's a work in progress." Therefore, they miss opportunities to leverage the capacity of their integrated financial institution. In most cases they have a road map to fix that, but they're struggling to get there.

Link: Forbes - Drowning in Data