Data – or at least the collection, storage, protection, transfer and processing of it – has traditionally been seen as the role of a modern data-driven technical division. However, as data continues to explode in both volume and importance, it is not enough to gather huge amounts of disparate data into a data lake and expect that it will be properly consumed.

With data becoming the defining factor of a business’s strategy, this valuable gold dust needs to be in the hands of the right business function, in the right form, at the right time, to be at its most effective. This means that traditional roles within the organisation need to adapt, as CIOs and CTOs oversee digital transformation projects across the business landscape.

The aim of digital transformation is to create an adaptive, dynamic company that is powered by digital technology – it is the perfect marriage of the business and IT function, and requires both to collaborate to successfully harness the data at a company’s disposal. This will be imperative to deliver the types of rapid growth and customer-centric developments that modern businesses are determined to achieve

In recent years, the groundwork for this has already been delivered in the increasing use of cloud within businesses – which the Cloud Industry Forum revealed earlier this year stands at 88% in the UK, with 67% of users expecting to increase their cloud usage over the coming years. However, while the cloud provides the perfect platform for scalable, agile digitisation, three further challenges stand between organisations and digital transformation success, and the business and IT functions need to work together to ensure their business emerges victorious at the other end.

Challenge 1: Business Is Moving Faster Than Ever Before

With cloud applications, sensors, online data streams and new types of technology emerging week on week, businesses are seeing an explosion of data – both in volume and variety. At the same time, consumers are expecting the very latest products, with personalised services, in real-time. The data businesses have access to can help but frequently ends up siloed, out of context, or of bad quality. Industry estimates predict that working on flawed data costs a business in the region of 10x more than working on perfect data.

Traditionally, employees within the business have maintained this data, but this is no longer feasible in the face of the sheer volume of information that businesses receive. Instead, businesses will need to be empowered by modern technologies such as Big Data and machine learning to ensure that as much of data preparation, cleansing and analysis is guided or automated. Without a combined data landscape of high quality data, businesses risk missing opportunities by simply not successfully analysing their own data… or even drive improper insights and related actions.

Being data-driven is a mandate for modern business, and the strain cannot be placed on IT to simply keep pace with the latest technological innovations. Instead, the business function must support in creating a digital strategy, focused on the latest business objectives, in order for the company to succeed.

Challenge 2: Digitisation Is Changing The Job Description

In the not-too-distant past, IT resources were centralised, with a core IT organisation managing on-premises data using legacy systems. While this was an effective way of keeping data safe and organised, it resulted in the data being hard to access and even harder to use. As recently as 2015, BARC statistics stated that from a sample of over 2,000 responses, 45% of business users say their companies have less than 10% of employees using business intelligence (BI).

However, in today’s data-centric world where surveys estimate that 38% of overall job postings require digital skills, empowering 10% of employees to be self-sufficient with data is nowhere near enough. Furthermore, Gartner research asserts that by 2019, citizen data scientists will surpass data scientists in terms of the amount of advanced analysis they produce. The roles of everyone throughout the business, from the CIO to the business process analyst, are emerging to need data right at the user’s fingertips.

These figures need access to data to ensure they can strategise, execute and deliver for the business with the most relevant and up-to-date insights available. This means the business must fully equip its employees and at every level to empower their decision-making with highly available and insightful data. As well as providing self-service technologies and applications which provide a turnkey solution to mining insight from data, this involves using training and internal communications to define a data-driven culture throughout business divisions.

Challenge 3: The Threats To Data & Businesses Are Increasing By The Day

The knee-jerk reaction to this might be to make as much data as possible available to as many people as possible. However, any well-versed CIO knows this is not viable. With upcoming regulations like the GDPR, organisations have an increasing obligation to make sure only the right people have access to every piece of information or place their entire organisation at risk. This is especially important given a backdrop where 71% of users admit to having access to data they should not according to the Ponemon Institute.

The solution to this is successfully implemented self-service IT solutions, which automates functions such as data access requests and data preparation. This is fundamental to allowing business employees quicker access to the right data, as well as providing clear lineages of who accessed what information, when – which will be crucial to monitor under the GDPR. At the same time, automated data preparation tools are essential to reduce the burden on the IT team, performing manual cleansing and formatting tasks. This, in turn, will enable the IT team to focus on delivering new technologies for the organisation, rather than troubleshooting legacy issues.

The rise of the cloud has created the possibility for every person in every business to be data driven – but to date, this has not been the case. Instead, organisations experience siloing and limits on innovation. The key is creating an approach to data that is built with the business objectives in mind. A successful digital transformation project is centred on achieving real business outcomes, which is then operationalised by IT – making both vital players in evolving the role and use of data within an organisation.