February 8, 2013

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The Year of the Real-Time Enterprise: Is IT the differentiator ?

There are powerful forces exerting pressure on CIOs and IT departments today.  Companies compete in markets where structural constraints (cost of entry, geography, etc.) are greatly diminished.  Success is dependent upon an ability to continually differentiate their products and service offerings against increasingly agile global competitors.

A new breed of truly disruptive technologies – in memory databases, mobility, cloud and social media – create possibilities that simply didn’t exist before.  For the first time, business is looking to IT to drive the transformation agenda, not simply implement it.

These technologies will fundamentally change the way we do business.  Event-driven supply chain optimization, predictive maintenance, dynamic price optimization, and product and service differentiation based upon a “segment of one” are all within reach. The value of historical data will be unlocked, revealing retrospective insights that will form the foundation of increasingly sophisticated predictive models. These models, when augmented with a constant flow of increasingly granular current data, will transform us all into real-time organizations.

For example, in the past, companies leasing and maintaining equipment at customer locations collected large volumes of data across a variety of systems about equipment failures and the cost of resolving them.  Now these companies can detect and predict equipment failures before they happen by analyzing the historical data, identifying likely symptoms of impending failure, and combining this with real-time machine-to-machine diagnostics.  The impact: reduced downtime and improved customer service, avoidance of costly failures, and greater productivity for field service technicians.

There isn’t a single industry within which the potential of these technologies cannot be realized.  The challenge we face is defining just what the “art of the possible” is. Historically, we have applied technology to deliver incremental changes to well-defined business processes.  It is no longer about incremental change; it is about step-changes, it is about creating brand new business processes and business models. CIOs and their business partners, aware of the potential, are feeling the pressure to leverage these technologies before their competition – yet, in many cases, they don’t know where to begin. For example, according to IDG Research, 71 percent of senior IT leaders see mobile as transformational or strategic to their business, yet only 18 percent have developed a comprehensive mobile strategy.

Defining the art of the possible is a team sport, requiring participation from the CIO, business leaders, and more often than not, a partner to act as the catalyst.  The right partner will bring domain expertise allied to technical know-how, and an all-important new perspective to help identify, prioritize and ultimately realize the use cases that can genuinely transform the business.

Venturing into such new territory is not without risk. These technologies have a high-cost of entry, there are many competing and often overlapping options to choose from, and the necessary skills to deploy them effectively are scarce. Furthermore, transformational change will require transformation change management to ensure a smooth transition to new organizational structures, new business processes, and more. But these risks can be managed.

The greatest risk will be to do nothing at all.