The problem CEOs face today is not acquiring and storing data. Rather, it is turning that data into useful insight that enables them to better manage their businesses and seek competitive advantage.
So how do you go about creating an “intelligent corporation,” one that gets the right information to the right managers in a timely manner? The task requires a two phase approach that embraces the entire information lifecycle. And it entails not only the technology for managing information, but also governance issues such as roles and responsibilities for data handling and security policies.
The first phase of this process takes a top-down approach to define a strategy. It has three steps, beginning with getting all the critical players from different parts of an organization to come to a common understanding of information needs and problems. You need to agree on the definitions of key terms, like “governance,” which may mean different things to different people.
The second step involves diagnostics-looking beyond immediate needs to see the larger, longer-term opportunities presented by the information and how better information can help the organization perform at a higher level. One key is focusing on the obstacles that must be overcome to access and use the data, such as inflexibility of current IT systems and, most importantly, the inability to integrate data. For example, in some companies certain data cannot be shared between all managers for security reasons, and in some companies divisions compete against each other so managers don’t want to share data for bureaucratic reasons. A major task in diagnostics is understanding business vs. technical boundaries.
The final step in the first phase is to create a strategic plan. Again, this must be driven from the top. Technology issues, organizational challenges and security concerns all need to be addressed in the context of an overall vision for how information can support better business. Once that vision has been developed, an organization can then set priorities and start working towards a common goal.
The role of the CEO at this point in the process is to provide guidance and direction, rather than personally driving the creation of the plan. A vision could range from something like a specific implementation road map with milestones to a loose framework describing how the organization should be aligned.
Phase Two involves supporting the strategy and requires four core areas of discipline: governance, the technical considerations of delivery, data management and storage. To date, no company has completed the journey of becoming an intelligent corporation, but one organization that has taken critical steps in the right direction is the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which happens to be an Accenture client.
The NIST project’s initial focus was how to implement a financial management system. As part of the diagnostic process, however, the project team members began asking larger questions, such as what additional value would result if users could access information not just for reporting purposes but also for forecasting and planning? How much would performance improve if tools for managing and analyzing information were available through a single portal interface?
That led to the creation of the NIST Commerce Business Systems Portal, which provides integrated access to more than 15 business system applications and related content for NIST and the nine Commerce bureaus it serves. The portal now offers users real-time, centralized access to quality data through a streamlined user interface that continues to be customized to meet new requirements and serve new user groups. For NIST, the result has been better communication and analysis of information, leading to better, faster decision-making. For CEOs, the rewards could include reduced data management costs and enhanced insights for competitive advantage.
Royce Bell is chief executive of Accenture Information Management Services, based