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Act on technology to achieve competitive advantage

Mobile, social, virtualisation, big data and cloud are well past the point of exploration and are at the point where they can be leveraged for businesses to gain a competitive advantage, according to Accenture's chief technology officer Paul Daugherty.

He was referring to the conclusions of the Accenture Technology Vision 2013 report, which is developed annually by the Accenture Technology Labs.

"CIOs today are very much on the front line of the business and it is now a pivotal time for them to act on the key trends we've identified," said Daugherty.

For example, data is now being recognised as the key to releasing IT's strategic value, and so "business leaders with foresight are investing in digital tools, capabilities, and skills to more readily collect it, analyse it, derive insights from it, and most importantly, act on it," said Daugherty.

The Accenture Technology Vision 2013 report looks at the future of enterprise IT and makes recommendations for how companies can take advantage of technology and software to improve their competitiveness, operations and business results. According to Daugherty, the recommendations include:

Relationships at Scale: Businesses now have new ways to learn about consumers based on increasingly digital interactions that include email, social media, Web pages, online chat, mobile apps, and tweets. The challenge is to establish seamless multichannel integration and generate insights to transform communications with consumers from transactions to interactions to an unprecedented level of relationship and loyalty. However, many enterprises still view online channels primarily as a way to reduce costs, not improve relationships. This mindset needs to change.

Enterprises must find out how and where consumers are most comfortable interacting with them, whether by leveraging gamification techniques, providing location based apps, or offering context based services. Consider the way a retailer interacts with a customer: a discount delivered in an email is often considered "spam", while that same discount delivered as a consumer scans a product QR code is just good service. Understanding how, when, and where businesses should contact consumers can create a strong brand connection and deeper customer loyalty.

Design for Analytics: Enterprises are flooded daily with information from every part of their business generated from email, social media, websites, mobile apps, and more. Industry estimates peg data growth at 30-50 percent annually, resulting in not just terabytes but petabytes of data for many organisations. The problem is clearly not a lack of data. Instead, businesses are suffering from a lack of the right data.

Having the right data helps enterprises make better decisions. Getting it, however, requires a fundamental shift in how applications are built, configured, instrumented, and updated. While applications must meet functionality needs, they also need to be designed to deliver data that answers the enterprise's key questions.

So this isn't so much a question of designing a new enterprise architecture for analytics but rather creating a different view of enterprise architecture. What's needed is a strategy that sees data more as a supply chain than a warehouse. It's about asking what key questions need to be answered and designing for that data so that it becomes a cycle that improves the business through more insight or better operations.

Getting the governance right is also critical here. The governance of data/analytics between IT and the business is often the hardest issue to address. In fact the emergence of the Chief Data Officer role was born, in part, out of the need for some organisations to deal with data governance issues.

Data Velocity: Whilst Design for Analytics is about getting the right data, Data Velocity refers to how quickly an organisation uses the information to generate actionable insights that managers can act on quickly. Increasing expectations are a primary factor pushing businesses-all of us, actually-to ask for and act on data more quickly.

Mobility as a new channel for information has catapulted those expectations far forward as "connected everything" delivers even more data more quickly that can be analysed and acted upon. The Internet of Things will serve as an even greater catalyst for capitalising on the velocity of data.

At the same time another powerful factor pushing the need for more data more quickly is that the windows of opportunity are smaller in almost all business endeavours.

As an example, a grounded airplane costs airlines as much as US$250,000 per day; an oil rig that isn't drilling can cost US$1 million per day. The sooner an equipment malfunction or imminent shutdown can be detected, and the more detailed the data about the equipment's condition, the quicker it can be repaired and made productive again-and, if captured, the more data there will be to help predict future breakdowns and more effectively plan future maintenance regimens.

Seamless Collaboration: The rise in social networking brings new meaning into collaboration. Users' new social behaviour and growing expectation that every app will be "social" are pushing companies to create new user experiences.

However, to increase productivity, enterprises must move beyond standalone social and collaboration channels. They must begin to directly embed those channels into their core business processes. For example, adding the ability to comment, instant message, or follow a product through its activity stream within an order fulfillment application promotes a free-flowing exchange of ideas otherwise absent within a distributed supply chain.

The more people use collaboration tools, the more benefit everyone derives. However, making a tool available does not mean it will be adopted. Start with a targeted, user-centric model that supports specific work activities. Make it as enticing and easy to use as possible. Drive more job-specific usage and derive specific productivity gains within specific tasks.

Lastly, embedding collaboration requires a cultural shift within the enterprise to change the way it looks at both its workers and its business processes.

IT must provide a flexible platform that will allow the business to integrate the collaboration channels it needs into the applications it uses. Because the requirements will differ within each line of business, one-size-fits-all collaboration tools will no longer suffice.

IT must partner with the business, taking a business-centric view and actively understanding the business processes. The technologies must work for the process, rather than the reverse. There may still be separate channels for search, knowledge management, and workflow, but IT should work to either minimise fragmented use within the enterprise or figure out how to deploy them as part of a highly flexible collaboration platform.

Software-Defined Networking: The challenge of SDN is managing a complex implementation and having an effective change management strategy. SDN is complex because of all that it touches. It requires tools and frameworks that are still developing. There's a difference between virtualising your data centre and virtualising your entire network. In terms of the former, the benefits are usually too tangible and substantial to ignore.

Controlling the flow of data in today's digital business, where applications, systems, networks and communications channels are constantly changing, is arguably one of the hardest aspects of enterprise IT. Using SDN, enterprises can build an agile data centre network as the foundation of a dynamic enterprise. SDN enables IT to unleash the power of virtualisation and cloud services that can rapidly scale up or down depending on demand. These are compelling benefits for any enterprise because it makes it easier for them to handle change.

Although SDN ushers in the foundation for a highly dynamic enterprise, it's important to note that a high degree of dynamism can often be difficult for some businesses to accept. They don't want things dynamic-they want them stable. Change too often equates to something breaking, which is something nobody wants. The transition to SDN presents another classic example that sometimes the hardest challenge in technology is not changing the systems but changing the people that run them.

Active Defence: The more compelling question may be "what is the cost to a business that doesn't properly secure its data and systems?" Technology risks are inherently business risks - the harm to intellectual capital when data is compromised, the operational risk when business is disrupted, the reputational hit when customer information is stolen. The security emphasis is shifting from simply monitoring to understanding to acting. Active defence technologies are emerging to help companies know their enemy, and prevent them from knowing you.

But the real advantage lies in successfully integrating solutions and approaches-calling for a holistic security architecture-and ensuring that the architecture remains flexible enough to deal with the continual flux in security requirements. While this may require enterprise resources and budget, the cost and consequences of an inadequate security strategy could be far worse.

Paul Daugherty will be presenting about the Accenture Technology Vision 2013 report at the CIO Workshop in Seoul on 30 May. Held every year since 1988, the CIO Workshop is jointly organised by the Singapore IT Management Association (ITMA) and Accenture. The CIO Workshop aims to serve as a platform for Singapore IT leaders to discuss on the challenges facing the technology community.


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