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Editor’s Note: In this Q & A, Michele Goetz, a Forrester Research senior analyst, speaks with ebizQ’s Peter Schooff about digital disruption, big data and the evolving IT landscape. This interview, excerpted from a longer podcast, has been edited for length, clarity and editorial style.

ebizQ: Exactly what is digital disruption and why is it so prevalent today?

Goetz:
Digital disruption is really about using digital devices to go about your daily business. We're not in a pen-and-paper environment anymore. We use our smartphones to talk to people, to text messages, to take pictures of what's going on, to use social media. We don't always watch TV [on a TV set] anymore. We can watch on our computers, on our iPads, even on our mobile devices. So digital disruption is really working within a digital world and sharing information in ways that we haven't done so before.

ebizQ: Now, how can that cause information corruption in an enterprise?

Goetz:
What you find is that there are no standards in the way that information is collected, shared and delivered, and you don't always want to constrict that. You want to keep communication flowing; you want to keep information flowing. Information is our business now.

[But] the applications that you're using may not be rigorous in the way that they collect information. You can enter in your name however you want, you can enter in your phone number or email address however you want, you can even text-message without having to use proper grammar—or without even using words at all. You're using symbols to describe what you're trying to say.

All this makes it difficult to understand and decipher content and context by traditional means. Sometimes the information [you need] doesn’t even exist, or it’s collected in a way that you don’t have context for what was just shared. So how do you make sense of all of that?

ebizQ: So how can information corruption can be prevented? How can companies get on top of all of this?

Goetz:
It's really about thinking about what value that information is going to provide to your business. How do you want to use information to evolve your business, to grow your business, to drive innovation? You have to put information, and the sources of that information, back into the context of your business objectives. Not everything out there is trustworthy, not everything out there is decipherable. So you really need to understand which policies to put into place, and which mechanisms [to use] to determine when and when not to either bring information in--or even to trust the information.

But trust is a huge piece, too. You need to consider that, in some cases, loosely defined or [partially] understood information still provides value. It gives you a direction of where you may be headed or what people are interested in. But you're also using that information within the context of your own experience and other anecdotal information. So it's not the only way to utilize information to drive your business.

But in other situations, when you're having a conversation directly with your customers—say, in a customer service engagement, or when someone is trying to purchase something--you need to be much more specific and precise about that information so that you deliver a quality experience. Then governance really matters. You do need precision in your information, and you do need to be able to capture it in a way that will make sense and can be trusted.

Thinking about how you govern information that’s coming in and flowing through your business processes is one way to prevent information corruption that then impacts your business. Now, that's from a policy perspective. But the other side of that is: How do you institute those policies back into your infrastructure, your digital architecture, your digital information?

There, you want to try and institute business rules at various points within business processes, within an engagement path, and in different value streams within your organization back to partners, customers and other sources of information so that there's an automated fashion in the way that that [happens].

You're providing stronger controls and governance as information moves into areas that are going to be in more widespread use and have to be highly trusted. Or you have them available to at least provide a bit more structure and context in areas where the information is coming in and it's just too hard to makes sense just looking at it at face value.

ebizQ: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen companies make in terms of digital disruption?

Goetz:
I wouldn't necessarily classify it as a mistake. I think that the pace of digital disruption has certainly increased. There's been a lot of game-changing. It's changed whole business models.

So it's not that you're making wrong choices, necessarily, but you're looking to make choices to help you understand this new landscape and that most companies today are sort of in “sandbox mode” [that is, a protected environment for testing or practicing].

Big data has been such a huge topic of discussion, particularly [in terms of] analytics, of late. A lot of organizations don't understand what's in big data. They're just getting used to the technologies needed to assess and then analyze information from these large data sources. So they set them out into a silo and they play with them to get used to them and see what they can find.

There's a lot of discovery going on not just around insight, but also about how to use technology to gain that insight. The challenge of that is, you create the silo of information and value of insight. Eventually, you need to bring that back into your traditional environments. Your traditional environments today aren't necessarily set up or agile enough to take in this information and connect to this big-data world and so that becomes a challenge.

In the sandbox approach, the goal was: “How do I get insight?” It wasn’t “How do I eventually bring these two worlds together so I can operationalize that insight?” So now companies have to think about the things that they weren't considering when they were in the learning and education mode. They have to re-evaluate what they did learn as they were working with big data and analytics and getting great information that they can use to make business decisions—and how that that information is structured to then be brought back to those traditional operational environments.

That's really where the challenge comes in. You need that sandboxing because not only does it provide information, but sometimes that's your agility. It's short, it uses fewer resources and you're able to deliver value quickly.

But when you institute that on a consistent basis versus doing that in certain situations when it makes more sense, mistakes can happen because you've adopted too much of an agile ungoverned environment. Then you wind up with a significant amount of technical debt because it's not just one sandbox environment that you have to connect into your operations, but a multitude of them. Then businesses get bogged down, and they're held back from the innovation that there were actually trying to achieve by leveraging all of this data.

ebizQ: Are there any real-world examples you can give of big data mastery in action?

Goetz:
If you think about who was at the forefront of big data, it was the Googles, the Amazons, the Yahoos of the world. They were big-data environments and disruptive environments from scratch, but they had to think about the same things that any other organization thinks about. They have to think about how to manage this information, how to govern this information, what information can be trusted. Google is notorious for continuously reevaluating its algorithms to refine its search strategies to ensure that proper context is put together and evaluating how to grab that information and make sense of it.

Organizations have to start doing that as well. Not very many of them have really embarked in a full seamless strategy to address this. You still see a lot of sandboxing when it comes to big-data analytics, but you are seeing questions arise and organizations are at that tipping point where they do want to move into that operational environment.

Retail environments have taken a first step to look at behavioral information as they’ve been working with agencies on their advertising plans and advertising programs. They’re taking those insights and putting them back into the way that they remodel and create offers to get customers engaged and buying more products.

Now they’re trying [create systems with] a seamless understanding of what happens in a social environment, what happens when you're shopping at the store and what happens when you’re shopping on your mobile device or laptop. Then they’re instituting that within marketing automation programs that then deliver offers and send out communications, and have a closed loop in the way that they engage with customers.

We’re also seeing that within utilities and oil and gas. They've been working with working with big data for an awfully long time and now they're just trying take the next step in a more mature platform and balancing how they manage and model information versus what they have to think about in terms of processing volumes to get that information more into a real-time environment.

The operational aspect and the moving of the speed of information to obtain business value is where I see a lot of organizations trying to go.

READER FEEDBACK: Is your business model changing to accommodate digital disruption? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.



About the Author

Peter Schooff is a former contributing editor for ebizQ, where he also managed the ebizQ Forum for several years. Previously, Peter managed the database operations for a major cigar company, served as writer/editor of an early Internet entertainment site and developed a computer accounting system for several retail stores. Peter can be reached at pschooff@techtarget.com.

More by Peter Schooff

About ebizQ

ebizQ is the insider’s guide to next-generation business process management. We offer a growing collection of independent editorial articles on BPM trends, issues, challenges and solutions, all targeted to business and IT BPM professionals.

We cover BPM standards, governance, technology and continuous process improvement, as well as process discovery, modeling, simulation and optimization, among many other areas. We follow case management, decision management, business rules management, operational intelligence, complex event processing and other related topics. We closely track important trends such as the rise of social BPM, mobile BPM and BPM in the cloud. We also explore BPM’s use in functional areas, such as supply chain and customer management, and in key verticals, such as financial services, health care, insurance and government.

ebizQ's other BPM-oriented content includes podcasts, webcasts, webinars, white papers, a variety of expert blogs, a lively online forum and much more.

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