In its most recent 2018 forecastings for the New Zealand IT industry, IDC’s report ‘NZ IT Industry Predictions, 2018: The Ascent of the Digital Native Enterprise’ noted that by 2020, 75% of large enterprises would be generating revenue for their data.

Coupled with New Zealand organisations starting to realise data as a strategic asset, by 2019 IDC’s report also predicted that 40% of digital transformation initiatives would incorporate an element of artificial intelligence.

These trends offer significant weight to the idea that data-driven decision-making has become a strategic vision for many of New Zealand’s CxO community. As businesses look to enhance their digital footprints, organisations are looking more and more towards the data that they capture and starting to realise this as a strategic asset.

This context was the backdrop for a recent CxO discussion hosted by Innovatus Media and Cloudera that featured 14 of Auckland’s leading C-Suite executives. The luncheon was entitled “Data-Driven Decision Making & the CxO”, and offered the opportunity for executives to connect and explore the changing role of data within their organisation.

Innovatus Media’s Managing Director, Matthew Egan, moderated the event; with insights also shared by Pritesh Patel, the country lead for Cloudera in New Zealand.

The luncheon exposed the strategic approach of New Zealand’s CxO community with regards to data. Not only did it provide an insight into the data initiatives currently being executed in the market, but it also showcased just how much information is changing every role within a business.

Three essential elements that were explored by the group looked at the real benefits of AI, whether CxOs can use data to fail fast, as well as how data and culture needed to be merged to achieve success.

Artificial Intelligence and the CxO:

AI is one of the most exciting elements of data analytics. As it stands, AI has the power to transform corporate decision-making. On top of this, with the advent of real-time decision-making, processes stand to become routinely more automated in the future.

Pritesh Patel, Cloudera

However, a key challenge put forward by the group is for CxOs to start to understand what AI is, and what applications it might have to your business.

“Being clear about what AI means is critical. When you are speaking with C-Suite executives in your business that have read the latest Harvard Business Review, they will start to ask questions around why our business is not involved in machine learning?” one attendee noted.

“The reality is that we might not have the data to invest in machine learning.”

“The reality is that we might not have the data to invest in machine learning.”

The group noted that this is the “risk” they are starting to see as AI becomes a tagline. Leaders need to place these new technologies within context, as well as understand the real value they can potentially provide.

“With AI, it is about assessing what can I take off the table that would normally need some human intelligence. It is about trying to curb the enthusiasm of the technology, while also encouraging the discovery,” another attendee noted.

The term AI has brought data to the surface of an organisation, however without placing AI techniques within the context of an individual business and its data assets; the group acknowledged it could be just another technology buzzword without substance.

“Nothing changes because you have built a model or an insight. You have to get people within the business actively involved. If you don’t have a change agent or champion within the business, there is no point in doing the analytics,” noted one attendee when speaking on the impact data teams can have on increasing the ROI of a business.

Gaining Buy-In

Gaining buy-in was a critical element discussed by the group when looking at the real impact of driving data-driven decision-making, as it without buy-in, models and analysis are just that.

The group discussed ways in which business groups could become more bought in by data analysis. One insight offered was around ensuring data teams understood the business more before going on a discovery.

“As leaders, we need to give IT a base core of business knowledge. Giving IT context is done by connecting with key stakeholders and getting buy-in for what you are doing as a business.”

The emergence of the “Business Technologist” is a critical step when looking at how organisations can become more influenced by data insights. Technology teams, data scientists and business analysts need to become more intimate with the CxO function and have empathy for their perspective on the business.

Can You Fail Fast with Data?

Throughout the discussion that a vast majority of the group was using data to drive innovation in process and experiment around where efficiencies could be.

However, in looking at this, the group then looked at what rate these projects needed to succeed to get the investment from the business. For a company investing in innovation, is there an opportunity to fail? And does the fail-fast approach exist at a CxO level?

“It takes a brave CEO with vision and strength to drive a fail-fast approach within an organisation.” – Pritesh Patel, Cloudera

“It takes a brave CEO with vision and strength to drive a fail-fast approach within an organisation,” Pritesh noted.

Another attendee went even further by adding that:

“Failure needs to be embraced more in the corporate world. There is no ‘I believe’, it has to be ‘if we invest here that is the return’, you need to be able to visualise the return.”

This idea concluded that in reality, it was difficult for CxOs to fail-fast in for-profit environments. Everything has to be a commercial success, and if it is not, it is considered a failure.

To counteract this argument, however, it was also noted that although failing does take a degree of boldness. Businesses should start to consider investing in data as being an investment in R&D. If the functions’ sole purpose is in researching different outcomes, a “failure” would therefore not be considered a failure but learning.

Conclusion

Artificial intelligence, cultural shifts, evolving data analysis into a research hub, the luncheon offered some real insights into the nature of data-driven transformation from a CxO perspective.

It is clear that data is a critical element of discussion for New Zealand business leaders. To uncover this even more, and drive real value out of data insights, businesses need to continue to try and understand the data they have, and how it can be applied to drive benefits around operational efficiencies, customer engagement, as well as process automation.

The discussion was a positive one and showcased a new breed of leadership in New Zealand that has an appreciation for data-driven insights. As this sphere of influence continues to increase, so will the culture of data-driven discovery.

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