The Future Role of the IT Organization in Mid-Market Companies

“Big Data” has been on most IT folks’ radar screens for some time but new data suggests the time has come for mid-market companies to do some serious thinking about the implications.

It’s over 400 years since Galileo, hearing of the invention of the telescope, rushed to create his own version to sell to the commanders of the Venetian navy. He immediately understood the value of being able to more quickly recognize distant ships coming into harbor or gain advance information about the capabilities of enemy craft at sea.

Galileo's Map

The desire to gain advantage by acquiring and processing information more quickly has arguably been one of the biggest drivers behind the evolution of “IT” throughout the time since Galileo’s first x10 telescope. Obviously a significant business or military advantage comes from having better knowledge and insight than your adversaries. Knowing what your customer’s want and being able to more quickly satisfy them also creates competitive advantage. Processing orders, handling inventory, raw materials purchasing, invoicing and payments…..all garner greater benefit by being done faster.

Why is this important to today’s mid-market IT organizations? And what’s it got to do with “big data”? The latest research from EMA* suggests that the early adopters of big data technologies are moving their projects into production – over half of the projects studied are either in a full or pilot production phase. Survey respondents are finding that big data programs are able to aid real-time decision making. Big data is enabling these companies to mine information from previously hard to analyze data sets (like ships a long way off at sea) and to use it for better outcomes and, ultimately, competitive advantage.

One example is the healthcare organization that analyzed patient medical records in real time to reduce the risk of prescribing harmful medications to inpatients, based on their histories and current symptoms. Another is the restaurant loyalty and rewards program operator who provides real-time program analysis data to restaurant chain customers so they can replicate successful marketing programs quickly and identify poorly performing restaurant locations at the earliest juncture.

The list of industries and use cases for big data is large and growing and the days of pure experimentation are beginning to wane. The inference is that big data will be the next wave of competitive development that speeds the availability of critical business data, disrupts business models and changes the competitive landscape.

The implications for mid-market IT organizations are immense. A key imperative in resource constrained businesses is to free up time to allow for the necessary big data discussions, explorations and innovations. Big data projects cannot be defined or driven by IT alone. It’ll take extra time to develop the business knowledge and relationships required for success. IT must find ways to reduce the time spent on day-to-day operations in order to deliver on both operational excellence and business innovation expectations. To succeed IT must:

  • Look to third parties to help with basic tasks and cloud-based services.
  • Reduce the number of different tools and systems used – pick the best and most comprehensive – to reduce the burden of dealing with multiple vendors, upgrades, trainings and support efforts.
  • Optimize for business growth not just around the IT budget.

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Here are 6 responsibilities that tomorrow’s IT department must make time for:
  1. Identifying opportunities. In the EMA study over 40% of funding came from finance, sales and marketing. The finance department was a major sponsor in the retail, healthcare and manufacturing segments while IT was the largest sponsor in the Public Services sector. Discussions with other functions will help identify key big data opportunities.
  2. Obtaining funding. Obtaining funding means developing an implementable strategy and cost effective plan that leverages current infrastructure investments and outside capabilities. Funding for projects that truly have a strong business impact will likely come from senior management as well as other functions.
  3. Defining and developing applications. Big Data initiatives require complex processing. To derive the most from large volumes of “unstructured” or “incomplete” data requires more complex rules and advanced predictive analytics, possibly even the use of natural language processing. In addition, analytical results will need to be built in to existing processes and workloads in order to meet the requirement for speedier decision making and competitive advantage.
  4. Manage pilot programs. Despite the fact that big data approaches are maturing, for those who have yet to start, the challenges are considerable. Early adopters spent more time on data management issues than analytics and adjusting existing business processes. Later adoptees may be able to learn from the early experience and move more quickly by piloting in unfamiliar areas.
  5. Design “big data” architecture. Adding new data to a traditional structured database is quite simple in comparison to creating an architecture that enables consistent real-time analysis of data from multiple sources, each potentially with a different structure, format, update frequency etc. Ultimately IT will need to redesign the current IT infrastructure. Regardless of where the resultant systems reside, big data represents a major activity for IT going forward.
  6. Prepare to take a leadership role. As has been indicated big data programs are complex. Opportunities might be identified from across the organization but it’s clear that IT needs to take the leadership role when it comes to strategy, planning, design, development and implementation.

Just as the telescope had a profound impact on the speed with which information became available when it first appeared, big data is starting to have a similar, if not greater, impact. And while large enterprises may have deeper pockets to leverage the capabilities it is mid-sized businesses that are at greater risk, if they ignore the possibilities.

By helping the IT departments of mid-sized companies meet their SLA mandates, Kaseya’s advanced monitoring solution, Traverse, helps free in-house IT staff to better respond to business requests and provides detailed intelligence that IT can use to add strong value in conversations regarding business innovation.

Learn more about how Kaseya technology can help. Read our whitepaper, Solving the Virtualized Infrastructure and Private Cloud Monitoring Challenge.

References:

Operationalizing the Buzz: Big Data 2013

Author: Ray Wright

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