Gartner Symposium Europe, the pre-eminent gathering of technology leaders in the region, is prefaced by a day of industry-focussed sessions. For technology professionals who judge their success by their contribution to the performance of their organisation, this is one of the most interesting parts of the whole conference.
This year’s industry day afforded a great many well-packaged, and well-researched insights. One point in particular stood out, however, and this was apparent across the various industries under discussion.
Emerging technologies, and analytics technologies in particular, have the ability to provide competitive advantage in many industries. However, emerging technologies are a risk. When margins are tight, there can be little appetite for technological investment in experiments that may or may not succeed. But waiting until technologies are proven can hand first-mover advantage to competitors.
This challenge was particularly apparent across three industry sessions. In insurance, Kimberly Harris-Ferrante looked at how operational intelligence and predictive underwriting, amongst other technologies, will soon become necessary to maintain margins and spur growth. In oil and gas, Rich McAvey looked at how upstream energy companies will use smart machines and better integration of operational and financial data to increase productivity. Finally, in consumer goods, Don Scheibenreif examined how FMCG companies can optimise their relationships with retailers and consumers, and grow their markets – two of the most interesting technologies he touched on were demand signal repository and big data supply chain analytics.
What these technologies have in common, aside from their transformative potential, is their IT-led nature, and the huge scale of investment necessary to ensure effectiveness and return on investment. It is not surprising that there should be some reluctance to embrace them unreservedly, and a desire to maximise the impact of IT spend in the industries affected.
However, a simple change in perspective may offer opportunities to achieve the same results as many of these potential initiatives, without mobilising the huge array of resources that they would require. All of these technologies offer, at heart, a solution to a business performance challenge. But, if we are trying to solve a business performance challenge, then often the skills of finance professionals can offer a solid foundation for the requisite IT implementation.
After all, the basic principles of accountancy were developed to efficiently run large and complex organisations long before there was any electronic means of augmenting human brainpower. By taking the latest management accountancy thinking, and baking it into an analytics software implementation, it is possible to tackle many of the most pressing business performance challenges without the need for highly complex data integration and custom software builds.
The skill that finance professionals bring to the table is not just knowing how to use data, but knowing what data to use. When augmented by IT, and applied to a data-centric business challenge, that economy of method leads immediately to economies of time and resource. With such an approach, the results promised by tomorrow’s technologies are available now – all that’s needed for success is a simple shift in perspective.