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Digital Transformations: How to Compete and Win Against the Big Data Guys

It is normal to assume that the “FAANG” companies, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google (Alphabet), collect and use Big Data to make big decisions. They are big companies. While they are not the only companies collecting Big Data, they and other organizations also buy and sell it. Sometimes they even share it with other vendors in what is increasingly known as the “data economy.”

As the data economy grows, data-driven players need to think carefully about the rules of engagement. First, are they using their data in line with the company’s mission and vision? Second, have they addressed the issue of data governance? Does the company comply with best practices and established regulations? If not, large companies could be driven out by other (perhaps) smaller companies that have greater clarity about who their customers are, what the end users and prospects want and need, and how their business will meet those needs.


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Data collection has limitations depending on resources and technology, so refining data can be somewhat of a limitation. On the other hand, squeezing the juice from existing data (which some companies don’t realize they have) and then purposely repurposing the data can yield surprising insights. For this reason, smaller companies have a chance against the big boys, as was the case when Google acquired user-submitted data card company WAZE. WAZE turned out to be a unicorn company with hungry investors eager to buy a slice of their growth.

The bad news is that it’s hard to tell which lens to apply to mountains of raw data. The fact remains that business is entering a brave new world and is at a tipping point where the focus must be on using data responsibly to create a brighter future with positive outcomes.

Three steps to a successful digital transformation

As companies move through their digital transformation, they need to understand what it takes and how to get it wrong if they insist on using data to prove their point. It’s the other way around. The best way is with a clear roadmap of initiatives measured on the basis of KPIs that match the intended objectives. Consider these essential steps:

1. Decide to do it. Going digital is not easy because it requires a different way of doing business and thinking differently. In addition to a transformation mindset, it is best to prepare for major capital expenditures on hardware and software. In addition, organizations must hire people with the education and experience to organize, manage and analyze the data so that their leaders can make the best decisions to serve customers and the market, including stakeholders (such as investors) and citizens (global impact ).

2. Avoid data silos. Once the decision is made and the technology and resources are in place, organizations often make the mistake of using traditional data architecture that captures extensive data that is ingested, stored and analyzed in silos, limiting opportunities for data enrichment and potential lessons from analytics . Here’s an example of a silo situation: Customer “A” gets a cup of coffee every morning at the local fast food restaurant. One possible offer would be to send customer “A” a free cup of coffee every now and then to make sure they keep coming back. On the other hand, here’s an example from a data-enriched environment. “A” buys their coffee with their smartwatch. Which special offer would sell that customer the best? A half-price donut coupon with morning coffee or a $1 voucher for a healthy, low-calorie fruit drink? Third-party market research might say that smartwatch customers are often calorie conscious. By combining payment mode data, market research, and regular customer footfall, marketers would now try to sell customer “A” with a healthy snack or breakfast offer. “Cross-pollinated” coffee purchase data results in more enticing and effective offers to the customer segment, increasing both sales and customer satisfaction. Looking for data trends and connecting the dots helps companies achieve their missions and goals.

Ask questions about the data! Do customers make a different decision if they use their home computers instead of mobile phones? Is information about the spending behavior of debit or credit cards relevant? Data in silos does not give the full picture. But we also need to ask ourselves whether this level of customer data collection and use is ethical and legal, leading to data governance.

3. Pay attention to data management. Data governance comes down to the correct use of data where security and trust are central. Data is used “correctly” according to the Institute of data management when it is clear “who can take which actions with which information, and when, under what circumstances, with which methods”. Organizations can choose to create their own data governance rules, or they can have them enforced by external organizations. It’s best to stick to a company’s own policies, so it’s part of its culture. Adhering to data compliance and governance rules is essential for companies embarking on digital transformation initiatives. Just as traffic regulations help consumers reach their destination safely, data governance helps organizations ensure the security, accessibility and proper use of the data.

For companies in catch-up mode

Companies are in different stages of their digital transformation process. For those companies that want to keep up with the digital age and operate in the data economy, it is important to understand these principles.

1. If companies try to get back to the data, they will fail. They can’t be a truly data-centric company if they use the data to validate what they already thought. They should let the data tell them what to do. It takes patience and having faith in the people with the skills to analyze the data.

2. Make better use of the available data. Companies that squeeze the juice from their existing data without violating increasingly strict privacy laws do not collect new data, but make better use of the data they have. They then extract the personal information from the raw data (e.g. age, ethnicity, address, income) and make decisions about a person type that fits that description by creating a customer profile, but not that individual.

3. Be true to the company’s vision and mission. Trying to be an Amazon or a Google won’t help. They are on another job. Companies that provide products and services to solve society’s real problems have a strong brand and a successful competitive advantage.

Protect profit and privacy

Data collection and sharing is making headlines for a reason. Every time a person interacts with one of the FAANG (and other digitally mature) companies, they become a piece of data. But that’s all they should be. Their age, location in the world, ethnicity and purchasing habits do not have to be personally associated with them. Taken together, however, the buying, eating, entertainment, travel habits, etc. of a group of people can prove to be extremely effective in helping entities including businesses, governments and schools to get the best return on their technology, services , marketing and manufacturing or education investments.

Those in leadership positions argue that better use of data could result in superior use of a country’s natural resources and human resources, increased productivity and reduced global waste. Additional benefits include more focused medical care and more, not less, privacy, as data scientists and data analysts with the right technology leverage data efficiently and effectively in line with organizations’ missions and visions. These resources can operate in a culture that cares about the public interest while protecting profits and privacy.

Improper use of data can undermine trust in all of our systems. Players of all sizes in the data economy game can choose to put data to good use.

About the author:

Mitesh Athwani is a senior IT leader with over 15 years of experience in services, consulting, analytics and data governance. He has an MBA and a degree in Computer Science Engineering. For more information you can connect at LinkedIn or contact miteshathwani@gmail.com

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