This year’s Gartner Symposium Barcelona was the event’s most challenging iteration for years – what’s clear is that, for all the bombast around ‘bi-modal’ IT and other buzzwords, there is genuine change afoot in the way that businesses use technology. There are huge challenges ahead, but, if five thousand technology professionals in the one building couldn’t come up with at least some ways forward, it would be a very poor show indeed.
As the conference went on, we did our best to pick out and explore the most interesting points of discussion but, for those who missed it, and we thought it worth putting together a round-up of some of the most important ideas to come out of the event.
Business intelligence – not so intelligent after all
At Gartner Symposium, we were fortunate enough to speak to CIOs from some of the world’s most interesting organisations. What was clear from those conversations was that the vast majority of current business intelligence implementations are not delivering the value they promised. As my colleague Andrew Mosely wrote on this topic, the sort of ‘data exploration’ that characterises the current generation of business intelligence tools does not provide the answers to specific challenges that are required in a modern business. The next generation of business intelligence tools will not, as some commentators have insisted, be characterised by ‘artificial intelligence’, but by an objective focus on well-defined business challenges, and the ability to reflect the particular circumstances and operations of the businesses that adopt them.
Big data – big, but not clever
Big data has been something of an obsession for the IT industry almost since the turn of the decade. The phrase ‘data is the new oil’ was bandied around and then, thankfully, allowed to rest, along with the idea that big data would offer the answer to every conceivable business challenge. In fact, speculative analysis of the sort that characterises big data can be a very inefficient use of resource. Data itself is worth nothing until it is analysed, but the right analysis can only start with a clear objective. From the sessions at Gartner it was clear that the industry’s thinking has caught up with that perspective. As my colleague Rachel Russell wrote during the event, CIOs will benefit from escaping this quixotic focus on the size, comprehensiveness and variety of datasets, as they can now concentrate on providing the most effective analysis, of the most relevant data, to support strategic decision-making in the business.
The strange case of the hidden algorithms
One of the most eye-opening statements at Gartner Symposium was the assertion, by a key-note speaker, that some CIOs do not know if their organisation has any algorithms. Now, an algorithm, by definition, is just a formula that solves a specific problem and, if any CIOs think that original maths is not being used to solve challenges in their organisation, then that is a much bigger problem itself. The confusion, though, comes from a misapprehension. As I wrote in a blog on the topic, even professionals have a tendency to think of algorithms as something akin to mathematical witchcraft – a ‘black box’ intelligible only to MIT data science graduates and their ilk. However, from a business management perspective, the most useful algorithms are those that can be easily understood and manipulated by finance, technology and management leaders, as dynamic models of strategy and operational principles.