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Straight Talk Technology

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This year, while preparing a client presentation on IT budgets and investment priorities based on our annual ICT Enterprise Insights survey, it struck me that, despite years of coverage in both mainstream and business media, the critical role that data plays in enabling enterprises' business priorities is still less than well understood. This may seem obvious for those who have battled for budget to invest in data management technologies, but it remains a perennial challenge to help senior business leaders see investments in data as critical to enabling their business agendas.

Investments in data are high, but not necessarily for the right reasons

Ovum's annual ICT Enterprise Insights survey interviews some 7,000 IT decision-makers about their budgets, business challenges, priorities, and investment plans. Under the section asking respondents to prioritize their business challenges, the three runaway top priorities are, in order, "increasing operational efficiency," "increasing revenue/budget growth," and "reducing operational expenditure." I may be biased, but as someone who has spent much of their professional career focused on how data can be used to improve business outcomes, these three priorities are at the core of what business intelligence and analytics technologies have aimed to tackle by using data. So far, so good.

Turning to the section assessing the importance of IT trends to their organizations, the rather surprising result is that the trend "exploit business information" languishes as the lowest-rated priority, which seems incongruous. It gets even more puzzling looking at the section assessing plans for using digital enabling technologies, where the technology with the highest rate of already rolled-out deployments, planning, and trialing is, "data lakes and big data platforms." So, data can help address top business priorities, and investment in it is high, but using it is not seen as a particularly important IT trend. Confused yet?

Enterprises are spending big on data management technologies. The rationale behind this spend is built on the need to tackle the physical growth of data and range of data types, the inability of traditional data architectures to handle those, and likely includes a good measure of concern about compliance. This is the type of spend that grudgingly gets signed off as necessary, but not necessarily value adding. The missing link, and therefore opportunity, is demonstrated by the survey results as above – what enterprises, and particularly IT and business leaders, should be thinking about is what using all that data can enable; or to use our survey's wording, how to "exploit business information."

Thoughtful investments in sourcing, storage, and management of data are rarely poor choices, yet investments in this area remain frustratingly difficult to justify, as an exercise in, for example, data quality rarely garners the same interest as one in data science. Tying investments in data to strategic business priorities focused on making and saving money, by demonstrating the central role data plays in enabling savings, is an excellent starting point.

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