All this information is a major driver and catalyst for innovation: healthcare data can help prevent and treat disease; meteorological data can improve forecasting for agriculture; we can detect both new sources of economic value and slowly evolving business trends; new scientific and technological possibilities abound. We are witnessing the historic economic theory being re-written with data becoming the fourth production factor, every bit as important in the modern economy as land, labor and capital previously defined as the three inputs into the production process.
Harnessing data to make it part of every single business has now become a matter of life or death. As the big data transformation sweeps across the globe, there's no room for bystanders. In my capacity as CEO at Orange Business Services, I've worked closely with many companies to help equip them with strong, coherent data strategies.
Our experience alongside customers has helped us identify three approaches that can increase the chances of success of data-driven transformation strategies:
Approach #1: Focus on quick wins
The rules of business are being rewritten on a quarterly basis. The gap between creating a strategy and executing it is getting shorter by the day. So, rather than spending several months or years designing a full blown digital strategy, some companies have seen that focusing on quick wins to learn and fund the digital journey is a safer and more productive approach.
One of our Russian customers – a leading fishing fleet – is a great example of this approach. Its main priorities included the optimization of fuel consumption. By employing the quick wins strategy, we helped this company develop an Internet of Things solution, not only to enable it to accurately monitor a ship's fuel consumption during operation and bunkering, but also to obtain live operational data on engines, generators and boilers. Once the pilot phase is complete, we will support the company in scaling up the solution to its other vessels, eventually to include the world's largest floating production factory.
This company exemplifies the underlying idea behind this first approach: start with a well-defined digitization project, which can be implemented within a short timescale to provide meaningful benefits as soon as possible. Once such solutions have been piloted, they can be added to incrementally.
Approach #2: Focus on high impact areas
The second approach towards a successful data-driven transformation that I've seen implemented is to focus on the areas of your business where the technology would have the highest impact.
Quality and accuracy are key areas where digitization could have a high impact in the legal profession, for example. AI machines have a similar accuracy to humans – around 90% – when working on a variety of legal texts. But, crucially, the errors made by AI are different than those made by humans. So, by combining human and AI expertise, a legal firm we work alongside has been able to bridge this 10% gap to obtain an accuracy of 100%.
A tire and rubber company with whom we also work provides another illustration of how to pick your battles. The latter identified the transformation of its retail business network to SD-WAN as a key area where digitization would have the highest impact, enabling the optimization of its business support applications and infrastructure. With this high-impact area in mind, Orange Business Services can help the firm convert its network, starting small in one specific country with the aim to expand this approach incrementally to other regions once the network conversion has been successfully tried and tested in the initial phase.
Approach #3: Fostering a data-centric culture
In my experience, a third route to a successful data-driven transformation is about putting data firmly at the core of company culture. Success isn't measured by short-lived, one-off achievements. It's measured by sustained results – attaining targets and goals, all day, every day. For data-driven transformation to fulfill this requirement, a data-centric culture must be instilled.
A good example of this approach in action is the city of Yanbu, a strategically important port in Saudi Arabia, which is fully embracing its digital future. To make the city's data come to life, Yanbu’s local authorities decided to take their digital infrastructure to the next level – creating ambient connectivity. From port activities to traffic management, from smart homes to smart metering, the whole of Yanbu's digital ecosystem now connects and communicates.
At the heart of all this is a Smart City Command Center, which enables the interactivity of the city's services and allows their management from a single point, bringing huge efficiencies and benefits. Citizens and public institutions have access to the ultimate collaborative environment, sharing data on services, public information, community management and more.
For me, this typifies the idea of a data-centric culture. City inhabitants from all walks of life are adopting this philosophy, which is playing a vital role in the success of this project.
One size doesn't fit all
To utilize data effectively, organizations need to be able to understand the proliferating data at their fingertips, and how to analyze and manage it. Each step in a company's digital journey is equally important to ensure that data ultimately produces a tangible business impact and the intended business growth.
Data-driven transformation strategies are essential for the survival of every business in this digital era, an era that is unleashing unprecedented levels of human creativity. The three paths that I have outlined can be taken either one after the other or all at once. There is no magic formula; it depends on many factors, such as company size and sector type. But in my view, these are the approaches that work best, that will give your strategies the greatest chance of success. Now, it is up to you to create your own formula. But if you want to survive – don't wait too long.
Helmut joined Orange Business Services in 2007 to head up Europe and Russia. He is now CEO of Orange Business Services.