In a TechRepublic article “Has the CIO lost Big Data?“, Patrick Gray points out that big data has become another force that is pulling control of IT from the back office to the front office. The prevailing narrative about IT includes a recurrent theme about how the CMO as a self-directed user of technology, who is doing fine, thank you very much, without the help of IT.
Gray argues that big data will increase the motivation of other parts of the business to go it on the own. Cloud computing provides a ready infrastructure and many services such as Google‘s Big Query or Amazon’s RedShift. MapR Technologies M7 distribution can be run on the cloud from both of those providers, and plenty of other offerings are ready to go. Big data requires expertise beyond the scope of what IT can provide. And marketing, which is used to dealing with outsourced providers will be using a lot of big data. So Gray is right to say that IT will be the last to know about many big data projects.
Gray explains that IT needn’t put its tail between its legs and run into a corner. Because IT has control of so much of the central data assets, it will have to be involved at some point in most big data projects, which need master data and other contextual data to get anywhere interesting. IT also knows how to manage technology vendors and can rationalize needs for big data technology across the company. For all these reasons, IT has plenty of help to offer.
Gray sums it up this way: “While looking to partner and play more of a background role in initiatives like Big Data may seem unsavory at first, technology is evolving away from technology-centric, internally-driven projects. CIOs who can get ahead of this shift and present IT as a competent, knowledgeable, trusted advisor rather than a parochial “department of no” will evolve and grow more important to an organization, rather than gradually fade away.”
While this idea of being a “trusted advisor” is well and good, it stops short of what I assert is the future role for IT: building platforms. The challenge brought on by the cloud, SaaS, mobile apps, and the rise in specialized vertical offerings of all sorts is that the footprint of IT is rapidly expanding. But as this expansion occurs, the responsibilities of IT aren’t going away. Everything a company of any size uses must have some level of security, compliance, disaster recovery, scalability, and reliability. SaaS providers always provide some but not all of these capabilities.
Managing the portfolio of data is another challenge that must be met by IT. Data captured in many SaaS apps must be liberated and combined with other sources to be made useful. Another challenge, addressed in these articles (Do You Suffer From the Data not Invented Here Syndrome?, Mission: How to Find and Use External Data, How to Create a Nervous and Vascular System External Big Data) is the rise in importance of external data. IT will need to build a nervous and vascular system to move data around and consolidate it as needed for various purposes. There will no longer be one data warehouse, but a distributed data supply chain. IT must build this platform. IT must also build a capability for information governance in order to understand, manage and make use of all of the unstructured data.
It is vital that as IT builds these platforms, it also makes sure that enabling technology sits on top of them that allows increasingly technology savvy business staff to build solutions out of stable and secure components to solve their own problems. The do-it-yourself success of QlikView and Tableau in the world of BI and Appian and Pegasystems in BPM will be replicated across every line of business.
In addition, it is time to recognize that the rise of the CMO as a technology maven is not all it is cracked up to be. CMOs can use technology from vendors like Eloqua, Marketo, and Hubspot because they have common requirements. The differentiation for marketing is less in the technology but in the content and the execution. Also, much of the CMO use of technology, especially for social media monitoring, SEO, and web analytics, is intermediated by agencies. Is there anything wrong with this picture? From a standpoint of a CMO there shouldn’t be. But from the standpoint of the CEO or forward thinking CIO, there is one major problem.
In a conversation Monday with Rob Tarkoff, President and CEO of Lithium, a software company that creates a platform for supporting the social customer experience, he pointed out that the rise in CMO led technology investment was creating a silo of potentially valuable information. Tarkoff observed that the signals found in social media and other marketing analysis can contain valuable signals that can be used may many different parts of the company, such as customer service, finance, product development, and so on. The CIO can participate in the assembly of a social profile of a customer that sits alongside the transactional and demographic profile that is usually maintained in the data warehouse.
Gray is right that the CIO should sense opportunity in the expansion of technology, but that opportunity goes way beyond the role of trusted advisor. CIOs must become master builders of enabling platforms and then lead the way in using them not just for a narrow purpose but for the benefit of the entire company.