Data integration will be one of the most important strategic challenges any company’s IT organization will face during the next few years. As rapidly evolving market environments and the drive for business agility compel company leaders to demand better integrated data during near-real time, IT executives and their architects will be faced with an increasingly larger challenge to deliver the capabilities their companies need, both for the present and the future.
A capability-based data integration strategy is likely the answer. By mapping what business and technical capabilities will be needed (and when), IT decision makers can make strategic appraisals about when to invest in the deployment of new technical solutions and when to focus on using the existing solutions more effectively (increasing adoption). Here are the four simple steps to build a capability-based data integration strategy for your company.
- Determine your business needs
This is perhaps the biggest challenge for most IT organizations. IT teams are good at observing technological trends (what’s new and cool in the industry). They are also experts at responding to the stated needs (and demands) of business users. The struggle for many IT organizations is anticipating how a business’ capability needs will evolve during the next few years and how that aligns with the pace of new technology being developed in the marketplace and adopted within a company. The result is IT focuses resources on addressing yesterday’s problems or deploying technology a business doesn’t actually need.
Developing a business-centric mindset, where technologists collaborate openly with business leaders to understand how the business operations actually work and how they must evolve, will give IT staff the ability to focus on solving actual business problems. It will also provide IT with the opportunity to avoid proactively business issues that impede operational productivity (and company profitability).
With data integration, it is important to understand from business teams what data they will need, with whom they will need to collaborate and where real-time vs. aggregated data will be needed. The goal of this relationship is to develop a clear list of a business’ operational (and technological) needs during the next few years and when those needs are expected to become critical.
- Assess your current capabilities
Don’t assume you know your current technical capabilities throughout your company. In most organizations, IT systems are fragmented, siloed and, in some cases, duplicated across business functions. Before you start shopping for new systems, assess your current parts and pieces and their future potential (not just how they are being used today). During this assessment, review how your business and operations teams are using the capabilities you’ve deployed during the past. Are they using all of their potential? Is adoption an issue? Do they understand what data is available to them and how to access it?
If you want to solve your company’s integration challenges successfully, then you can’t just focus on deploying technology – you must look at the whole system, which includes people, processes, data, technology and culture. You can deploy the best technology in the world, but if people don’t know how to use it or you don’t have a culture willing to embrace data-driven decision-making, then achieving the desired results will be difficult.
- Determine what capabilities are needed to address your business needs
Once you understand your business needs and the existing components in your organization’s environment, the next step is to connect the two. The best method is to ask a simple question, “If we want to solve this problem (or opportunity), then what components will we need?” You will notice the question is framed around the technology (“How can we convince more people to adopt these systems?”). Capability-based planning is the path to solving problems.
When you initiate a capability-based integration strategy, it is imperative you focus on solving concrete business problems. This may require new data sources, a more scalable methodology to connect and ingest data, better data-access-control policies, data warehousing or analytics tools and user training. Each organization is different and the variety of technological components from which you can choose is continuously expanding. Your IT staff can add tremendous value at this point by understanding leading-edge technological trends and applying them to your business problems.
- Align investments to deliver new capabilities when they are needed
Once you thoroughly understand what components are needed to deliver each business capability, you may start to feel overwhelmed at the size and cost of the components on the list. This is the ideal time to discuss with business leaders their vision of how the business may change during the next few years. You must also be aware of the often-large gap between the level of importance and the level of urgency of an individual capability before you can proceed with integration. Your goal is to understand both, so you can develop a delivery roadmap that makes the essential capabilities available just before your business needs them (not too early or too late).
Most IT budgets are limited, so it is not likely you will be able to fulfill all of your business’ needs as quickly as they are required. You can manage this situation by either prioritizing individual requests or looking for common needs that shared investments can fulfill. Examples include acquiring a new external data source that multiple functions can use or implementing a data-integration platform to manage streaming data and IoT devices. Remember, your goal is to fulfill as many business needs as possible (to maximize value), not just deploy new systems.
Applying a capability-based integration strategy can be an effective means of increasing the value of your IT investments. By focusing on your business problems, not just today’s, but also during the next few years, your IT staff will develop a deeper business understanding that will enable them to better support your company’s strategic needs. Data integration will be one of the biggest strategic challenges your company faces during the next few years and an ideal situation to apply a capability-based planning approach.