IT leaders: bringing the digital revolution in-house

The best is yet to come?

The digital revolution is still in its infancy. A year ago, Greg Satell wrote an opinion piece in Forbes, stating, “If you take a closer look, you’ll find that almost all of the gains have come from sectors that use IT extensively. So the real problem is not that digital technology doesn’t increase productivity, but that its impact hasn’t spread far enough. As the world of bits begins to invade the world of atoms, that will change in a big way.”

Those changes are beginning to happen. The digital revolution is slowly moving out of the realm of IT exclusivity to the general business setting. Individual departments are now turning to emerging technologies to improve work efficiency and productivity among employees, for starters.

“There are a variety of tools at the fingertips of any business owner,” said John E. Lincoln, co-founder and CEO of Ignite Visibility, a digital marketing firm. “The good news is, in this day-in-age, they are all very cheap.”

The biggest issues companies face, Lincoln says, include processes and workflow management. They use familiar applications like Google Docs and Excel spreadsheets, but in the digital revolution, those applications are the equivalent of the Stone Age; they won’t last in a world increasingly driven by Big Data, mobile and emerging technologies.

Lessons from Big Data

Each department still has its own niche within the organization; how each area uses digital will be dependent on its specific needs and goals. Take the way Big Data now fits into individual departments.

Igor Izotov, Principal Consultant at Analytics8 in Sydney, Australia, is a data analytics specialist who has witnessed the rise of Big Data and the family of Hadoop products, noSQL databases and, although this is not a technology per se, cheaper cloud and on-premise storage and compute power—all of which are all about storing, analyzing and processing data, and turning it into information. From projects that he has worked on, Izotov has seen how Big Data has improved the workflow of different areas in the following ways:

  • A network team at a telecom business is using Hadoop to predict failures of their hardware. In most cases, a group of network engineers is now dispatched before the actual degradation has taken place. This requires a massive amount of low-level data to be processed and analyzed to detect near-failure patterns.
  • The HR department a large organization was presented with a prototype solution using Hadoop to help manage the employee attrition rate. This involves analyzing employees’ behavior in social networks like LinkedIn, potentially even analyzing emails and overlaying this with the HR market data—openings, news, etc. The goal is to predict when someone’s about to leave before the decision is made. Or, conversely, to let someone go.
  • A security department was unable to detect sophisticated attacks (most of which are happening from within) because detecting them requires enormous storage capacity and compute power. “Imagine a person downloading data from a corporate database, 100 megabytes an hour for a month,” Izotov said. By applying Big Data technologies and storing low-level network metadata (as opposed to keeping only a week’s worth of it) and using Spark to analyze patterns, suspicious activities can be detected and leaks prevented.

Marketing and supply chain

According to Supply Chain Quarterly, the digital revolution is just beginning to take hold within the supply chain across industries. Citing a study by Accenture, the article pointed out, “The technology that has achieved the greatest adoption level so far is analytics. Three-fourths of respondents say they have either implemented or plan to implement analytics for supply chain execution; two-thirds have either implemented or plan to implement analytics for supply chain planning and forecasting. The use of mobility tools, such as tablets, wearables, and other personal devices, is also increasing, with half of respondents planning to use or already using them for supply chain execution.”

Marketing departments are also using the digital revolution to improve services. “IT leaders who support CMOs and marketing teams now have access to far greater data than ever before, and so we see them working together to bring new insights and empower smarter actions,” said Brian Smith, COO at ThinkVine. For example, in advertising, some data management platforms are evolving into true audience management platforms, with the ability to connect audience insights to targeted execution via direct links to ad buying platforms.

“Marketers across the board increasingly have access to simple, easy dashboards to guide their actions,” Smight said. “More and more of them have some sort of access to campaign optimization or structure A/B testing for their digital display ad, search, and social efforts. As marketers adopt these tools and learn to like them, many are asking their IT teams, their agencies, or other partners how they can use similar approaches to television and other more traditional media.”

Of course, there is still a long way to go before the digital revolution truly becomes an operational standard. Old-school mix models need to become more like attribution to help resolve the true impact of small or targeted activities, said Smith. Once that happens, expect to see boundaries between departments begin to disappear as agility, flexibility, and interdepartmental collaboration become the norm.

Post by Sue Poremba

Sue Poremba is a security and technology writer based in central Pennsylvania.