Digital business can be a troublesome term – no modern business can be either entirely digital, or entirely non-digital. However, that is a relatively easy observation to make. What’s harder is to say what a digital business ought to look like. At Gartner Symposium, Gartner analyst Chris Howard tried to answer this question and, in doing so, raised some important points about how technology leaders can help businesses achieve their strategic goals.
Key to this was his exploration of what he called the ‘adjacent possible’ – or the idea that great results can be achieved by reimagining the strengths and assets with the business. That is something that is very apparent when tackling corporate performance issues. When asked to drive efficiency and performance within a business, IT departments classically invest in a long-term project to integrate, manage and analyse data. But the many industries now move so quickly that a multi-year project will simply be outdated by the time it is delivered.
That is why the adjacent possible is such a relevant concept. It is much, much faster to connect an ETL layer to existing data sources, and install an analytics platform on top of these, than it is to integrate data sources together, or fundamentally change the way they are managed. What’s more, if that analytics layer is then able to answer specific business questions, then not only has the ‘adjacent possible’ of data analysis extracted new value from old data assets, but it has a transformative potential far beyond the distant, barely achievable prospect of, say, a data warehouse programme.
That was a point addressed in a very different manner by Luis Alvarez Satorre of BT Global Services, and Graeme Hackland of the Williams Martini motor racing team. In a joint presentation, they focussed on how IT can provide more value for the business. The crux of their argument was that IT must understand the fundamental strategic goals of the business, and always ask what it can do to help achieve those. Motor racing obviously provides a very clear and obvious goal to which IT can contribute – the car must be made to go faster – but in reality the goals of any business are no less clear-cut.
Increasing sales, revenue, margin or market share are no less objective, and the factors that influence them are no harder to interpret. Mapping a set of data transformations that reflects those factors and the relationships between them, and then building a data hierarchy that reflects the structure of the business, means that IT can create a tool that business leaders can use to answer the questions that lie behind their fundamental goals.