Data sold separately - why tech investments can fail before they start

Data sold separately - why tech investments can fail before they start

If you've ever bought a child a present only to see their joy shattered by the three little words "batteries sold separately", you'll be familiar with the experience many Australian businesses face when implementing new digital technologies. 

Time and again, research shows most transformation initiatives collapse. Some say 70 per cent of projects are doomed. Others say only eight per cent succeed.

Either way - between a litany of adjectives like 'staggering', 'shocking', and 'startling' - these reports always show a clear disconnect between the digital dream and the enterprise reality.

One major reason these projects fail is the quality of the business' data and the enterprise's ability or lack thereof to integrate data between business units and across applications.

Before even considering the new digital technologies that underpin many transformation strategies, business leaders must address the incomplete, incorrect or obsolete records that may exist within their organisations.

In other words, they must ask themselves; "Have I bought the batteries?"

No data? No digital

Every digital platform is only as good as the data from which it draws. Without a cohesive and comprehensive approach to data management and integration, new digital investments will be unable to deliver value - or worse, could actively hinder productivity.

In 2018, we surveyed more than 100 CIOs and IT leaders across Australia and New Zealand and found 91 per cent recognised the need to improve data connectivity within their organisations. Two years later, nothing has changed.

A key part of the problem is the extremely siloed nature of enterprise environments and data sources. This goes beyond selfish legacy systems built at the turn of the millennium; even business units within the same organisation are rarely able to collaborate.

The scale of an organisation's 'no battery' problem often doesn't become apparent until it's needed. In the past, many enterprises have embarked on ambitious, business-wide data management projects that sought to make data consistent across the organisation only to see the project fail given its sheer scale.

As a stopgap measure, many turned to an extremely complex patchwork of middleware and custom coding that requires considerable resources to maintain or replicate.

Integrate incrementally

Instead, a better strategy is to tackle data quality incrementally with each new project.

This is the approach Flinders University took when undergoing its visionary five-year digital transformation strategy. As part of its 'Making a Difference: The 2025 Agenda', Flinders University planned to move up to 90 per cent of its applications to the cloud so it could provide its 27,000 students personalised digital experiences anywhere and anytime.

But in order to do so, it had to ensure its data was clean and up to date so the new applications could accurately map student journeys and provide a seamless digital experience. Critically, the data from previously on-premise systems had to integrate with a diverse array of new digital applications.

By recognising the importance of data synchronisation and the ability to quickly integrate this data across the new suite of applications, Flinders University was able to halve development time and successfully build a connected digital campus for students and faculty alike.

If that same project had been completed without a parallel push to improve data quality, the final implementation would've been hamstrung by poor data. When a new digital platform doesn't deliver what IT promised, it validates any initial scepticism and sinks future projects before they start.

But when a new implementation delivers exactly what's promised on the box, as in Flinders University's case, any early resistance is quickly overcome.

A gift that keeps on giving

Ultimately, every digital transformation project is a promise from IT to the organisation's users. Every new application is a gift, offering new functionality, improved efficiency, and better workflows.

But as every parent knows, the initial joy of a new present can be quickly soured by three little words hidden in the fine print; "batteries sold separately".

So, when planning a new project, don't let data management and integration be an afterthought. Think about whether your organisation's data can be shared across multiple applications and business units. Consider how the success of the project, and projects to follow, will be greatly increased with accurate and complete data sets.

Don't be left without batteries on Christmas Day.

Nicholas Lambrou is managing director A/NZ at Boomi, a Dell Technologies business.

This story was published in partnership with Boomi.

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