Anybody wondering why – in this age of technology and connection – businesses still seem to struggle to serve their customers need look no further than a recent report from the information storage and management company Iron Mountain. It is widely acknowledged that making the most of data is a priority for businesses. However, the study shows that a lack of understanding between those who manage it and those who use it is making it harder to achieve this goal.
According to Iron Mountain, 89% of U.K. business leaders do not fully understand what their information managers do. In return, 56% of U.K. records and information managers admit they do not know exactly what senior business leaders want and need from information – with 66% confused about the information needs of colleagues in marketing, manufacturing, finance and other departments.
This is concerning enough because of its suggestion that so many people in business are not making as significant a contribution as they could or should be. But it is made all the more serious when one realizes how much more data is likely to be at the disposal of organizations in the coming years. This was made clear at an event investigating the progress and potential of the Internet of Things hosted last week by the cloud computing and hosting company Rackspace. Those taking part – including technologists, marketers and lawyers – agreed that the continuing falling prices and increases in computing power set out in Moore’s Law meant that ever more devices would contain sensors that would produce ever more information. Organizations’ problems with dealing with existing amounts of data meant that the significance of the Internet of Things might not be as great as predicted – at least not in the timescale envisaged. In the words of Nigel Beighton, Rackspace’s vice-president of technology and product, international, most companies will struggle with the scale of the task. They were used to dealing with a few transactions, “but the IoT is millions of things happening,” he said.
So, what is to be done? The most obvious thing is that business leaders need to pay a lot more attention to what is going on in their IT systems. For years now, it has been apparent that technology is too important to be left to the technologists. Such has been the proliferation of systems and so widespread is their application that there really is no such thing as a non-technology business. Consequently, it is no longer acceptable for senior executives to take only a passing interest in the technology. They need to be challenging their specialists, not just to make sure that they have adequate systems in place to prevent security breaches and the like but also to use the technology to produce advantages and insights that their competitors do not have.
This last part, of course, is the hard bit. This is because it requires people with a wider range of skills than are needed for keeping records straight. The latest survey of chief information officers (an increasingly common post in executive suites) by the research company Gartner indicates that “not only do CIOs expect, and aspire to, a leading role in digitalization, their CEOs expect them to step up and lead the digital charge.” It adds:
To seize this unique opportunity — and ensure that their enterprises survive and thrive in an increasingly digital world — CIOs must accept the ‘digital now, digital first’ reality, address long-standing challenges in value and risk management that could thwart digitalization, and replace pragmatic command and control with vision and inspiration. In short, they must radically ‘flip’ from long-held behaviors and beliefs, to digital leadership.
That all sounds great. But the reality is likely to be rather different. Not least because of the shortage of people likely to possess the combination of skills and attributes needed to fulfil the role. At Iron Mountain, Sue Trombley, managing director of thought leadership, is closely involved in attempts to define “what the new generation of information professional looks like.” Having the “data analytics skill set” is clearly a part of that. But so great is the demand for such people from government bodies as well as leading companies like Amazon and Google that it will be hard for other organizations to recruit them.
As new generations move up organizations there is likely to be less of a gap in understanding between technologists and more general managers because of younger people’s greater familiarity with technology. Indeed, Trombley predicts that this will contribute to “more democratization of data”, with more employees understanding the opportunities on offer. Conversely, though, the role of the specialist information manager could become more demanding, since more will be expected of them and they will be more likely to be challenged by people who have at least some understanding of data. Not everybody currently carrying out that role will relish this attention, but for the right person with the confidence to take a place in the top team, opportunity knocks.
This article was written by Roger Trapp from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.