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2021 in review - the year of data-driven everything

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright December 30, 2021
The data-driven enterprise became a reality in 2021, extending across finance, IT operations, customer engagement, supply chain, people management and collaboration.


This was the year that the notion of the data-driven enterprise started to become a reality. Going beyond the initial concept first promoted by Accenture/AWS (PDF) and subsequently endorsed by Gartner, in practice it's become all about democratizing access to meaningful data, helping people make better real-time decisions across the enterprise.

Being data-driven means using modern connected digital technologies to deliver pervasive access to data that's as fresh as possible, and in the context of everyday operational decision-making. It leaves behind the old batch processing and siloed data access that disconnected legacy technologies were forced to use.

This has been a year of data-driven everything, putting these principles into action across functions as diverse as finance, IT operations, customer engagement, supply chain, people management and collaboration.

Exclusive - Peakon's Phil Chambers on bringing voice of the employee to Workday

We've really turned this on its head, and we said, 'No, there should be real-time data sharing, at the coalface as well with the line manager.' That is ultimately the person who can effect the most change in the organization.

Why? Let's start not with technology but with people, as explained by Phil Chambers, Workday's General Manager for Peakon and co-founder of the company, which Workday acquired in January. Data-driven talent management means abandoning the old, disjointed methods of tracking engagement such as employee surveys or annual and half-yearly reviews, where the results were often shared with just a few executives and HR leaders. Instead, there's been a shift towards sampling employee sentiment in the moment, and therefore being able to take instant remedial action when needed. In Peakon's case, there's also a democratization of access, with line managers and often employees themselves able to see the data and act on it.

A Frictionless Enterprise perspective on supply chain planning

We came out of it with a common language and one unified data model. I can't stress enough how important that was to help us to communicate simply ... By democratizing the whole process, we accelerate collaborative planning of collectively understood decisions.

Why? Now turn to a function that's been in the limelight this year due to the ongoing of impact of the pandemic on demand, logistics and manufacturing. Here, Jason Howard, Senior Manager of Material Systems at VTOL aircraft maker Bell, describes a data-driven approach to supply chain planning. Other practitioners in this article emphasize factors such as operating on real-time data and cutting across operational silos. Many of these align with diginomica's own notion of Frictionless Enterprise, which I've been writing about for more than a decade now — real-time data, available anywhere on-demand, within a framework that's adaptive to change, and inherently collaborative. I'll have more to say on this theme as we move into the New Year.

FutureStack 2021 - New Relic champions the data-driven software lifecycle

Our vision for observability is a world where all stages of software lifecycle are data-driven. We believe that observability will be open, frictionless, and a natural part of every engineer's workflow as they build and run software.

Why? It was when Lew Cirne, New Relic's founder and Chairman, described observability in terms of being data-driven that it all clicked into place for me. Instead of each layer of the IT stack having its own siloed monitoring tools, with dashboards and alerts designed to catch known problems, observability brings all the data together, building telemetry into the IT stack and using intelligent automation to analyze huge volumes of real-time data and identify issues as they happen. It's software engineering's version of the data-driven trends that are also sweeping across the business functions they serve.

My take on continuous close - it's not as hard as you think

Fundamentally, the key to enabling continuous close is a principle that software engineers call 'shift left'. To shift left is to move critical activities as early as possible in the lifecycle of the process. In the context of the financial close, that means doing them as close as possible to each individual transaction, rather than applying them retrospectively in a completely separate operation later on. This works best when automation can be put in place to make it easier to complete those activities around the time of the transaction.

Why? As observability is to IT teams, so continuous close is to finance teams. Becoming more data-driven provides the opportunity to rethink practices and break out of the old silos and batch processes that were a consequence of the limitations of older, disconnected technologies. As I observed in this piece, it doesn't have to be something you turn on all at once — take it one step at a time.

ERP do or ERP die? CFOs weigh IT investment choices in Rimini Street survey

In the words of another CIO, 'I will have my best and the brightest people tied up in these ERP upgrade projects, when I need them somewhere else. I need them in places where the business wants to grow.'

Why? The urgency of being data-driven is paradoxically slowing the pace of ERP modernization. As Hari Candadai, GVP of Thought Leadership at Rimini Street, points out above, many CIOs don't have the resources to upgrade their core ERP systems. With modern digital integration, they don't have to. Instead, they can just plug it into other systems that can do the heavy lifting of harnessing data to enable business outcomes. This approach even works for mainframes. To dig further into this, see also Workday co-CEO Aneel Bhusri on moving beyond ERP, IFS CEO Darren Roos on cutting across traditional application categories, and SnapLogic CEO Gaurav Dhillon on integrating data and applications across the enterprise.

Twilio Engage builds on Segment acquisition to challenge the marketing clouds

What if we reimagined digital marketing ... as a data-up growth platform, instead of a campaign-down marketing cloud? What if there was a product that allowed you to personalize every single customer interaction, and do it all in real time? This is what we call growth automation — using data to fine-tune in real time, across the entire customer journey.

Why? Here's an example of data-driven customer engagement, as outlined by Segment co-founder Peter Reinhardt, now GM of Twilio Segment. Once again, the old traditional batch processes, where marketing data is first stored, then organized, and finally interrogated, are being replaced in an always-on, digitally connected world to ensure that data is harnessed in the moment to deliver immediate, personalized messages. See also the rise of digital messaging as a platform for richer interactions with customers.

Skyflow to developers - your approach to PII security is all wrong

... in this modern API-first world, that's the wrong way to think about it. You don't think in terms of boxes and how do I protect each box, because there is no data center, and there are no boxes to protect ... You get hold of this data in your life cycle and just protect it as it goes everywhere because it's in one PII API. That concept is a new concept, and basically we have to educate them.

Why? Skyflow CEO Anshu Sharma explains a radically different way of handling highly sensitive Personally Identifiable Information (PII) by taking it out of traditional application and security silos and instead managing it in a single, highly protected, specialized data vault. This is an example of how a data-driven approach can lead to a completely new and more elegant way of solving longstanding challenges, but it means thinking outside familiar boxes. Another example I found interesting was the GAIN initiative to persuade banks to become providers of verified online identities, instead of everyone having to hand control of their personal data to the likes of Facebook and Google.

Hybrid working isn't a halfway house, it's a whole new future of work

... hybrid working isn't about solving the problem of how to fuse together working from home with working in the office. It's taking all that we've learned in the past year about this new, digitally connected pattern of work, and seizing the opportunity it presents for a huge leap in inclusion and sustainability, while enabling much more effective, productive and affirming work.

Why? This is my take on hybrid work as much more than simply a reconfiguration of where people do their work. The rapid evolution of digital teamwork tools is adding many more dimensions, enabling new ways of working and patterns of employment. Few vendors or businesses have yet grasped that full picture, although one fascinating response is Zoho's vision of transnational localism. As for making teamwork data-driven, so far only Asana seems fully committed to putting the tooling into place.

mmhmm founder Phil Libin on the future of video meetings

Like the dot-com days, when the Internet came and embedded itself into the fabric of every business transaction, I think now video is going to be embedded in the fabric of every business transaction, even when people are walking around doing stuff in person.

Why? As Phil Libin, founder and CEO of video presentation app mmhmm, explains, the future of collaboration and engagement is going to be increasingly visual. The roll-out of video clips in Slack and other digital teamwork tools — asynchronous alternatives to Powerpoint decks, product demos and Zoom status meetings — is an early confirmation of this trend. But as I found when I caught up with Cloudinary about its API-centric Digital Asset Management (DAM) system, few enterprises are equipped to handle on-demand visual content. It's a useful reminder that the data-driven enterprise isn't just about text data — visual and audio data will also be important. That's a point I'll be digging into further in one of my first pieces of 2022.

After a quarter-century of SaaS, the next 25 years belong to XaaS

SaaS — along with IaaS, Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and all the rest — was transformative for the software and IT industry because it created a continuous digital connection between the provider and its customers. And that is why the XaaS model will transform every other industry, as every product, service and experience becomes digitally connected.

Why? This article, based on a discussion with fellow analysts Vinnie Mirchandani and Jeff Kaplan, was the third most popular  on diginomica this year. In it, I discuss how the history of SaaS is a harbinger of the trend today towards Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS). Looking at it now, I would add that a big part of becoming 'digitally connected' in that final sentence is being data-driven. A fully rounded XaaS proposition relies on effective collection and analysis of accurate data about what outcomes customers are aiming to achieve, how your product, service or experience contributes to those goals, then using that information to continuously improve the offering so that it supports their success. This is another theme I'll be picking up in the coming weeks — I wish you all the best for the holidays and look forward to connecting with you again in 2022.

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