Companies like Amazon have demonstrated to the world how to successfully leverage corporate knowledge.
Amazon integrates consumer information to multiply the value of each sale by promoting comparable items, recommending associated products, or offering customer reviews on the product that consumers are about to buy.
Where it doesn't make sense for Amazon to stock items, the company handles the payment and product marketing, while offloading ineffective logistics to third parties.
Amazon's expertise is in specifying the supply chain criteria to determine whether to stock an item or let other companies do so.
As a visionary, the company gained an early competitive advantage by empowering consumers to make informed choices based on factual information throughout their online shopping experience.
Amazon doesn't have more information at its disposal than other similar online stores. What it does do, however, is effectively act on this information.
Amazon is perhaps the perfect example of how to use information to grow a business. So, what's required to boost your business capacity and explore the hidden gems already available within your data?
Below is a five stage process that will help improve your reporting capabilities, operationalise the strategic data sets and reduce the time needed for better business decisions.
Stage 1: Appoint an information champion
Without a willing and engaged executive information champion, any big data project will be compromised.
Your champion must be someone who is an authority on how information must flow throughout the business; and understands which critical records underpin the integrity and quality of operations.
CIOs are often well placed to maintain the balance between complex business intelligence systems and corporate relationships required to preserve effective information management practices.
In organisations where no specific CIO role exists, it is as equally important for the most senior IT representative to understand how information champions are identified.
They also need to ensure systems and services are well represented in any governance framework.
Stage 2: Ensure information owners are working together
During this stage, you should identify and encourage information owners within your business to work with your selected information champion to make decisions around how to use specific data sets.
These information owners rarely reside within the executive team since a key requirement in steering master data management decisions is a deeper working knowledge at the data level.
The most senior departmental staff member is therefore best placed to hold an information owner position -- someone who fully understands the operational business risk associated with the usage, access and impact of any their specific data sets.
Stage 3: Create a business intelligence/big data competency centre
Although competency centres are not new, many businesses have struggled to effectively integrate this capability with existing departmental functions to maximise the benefit of their business intelligence and big data programs.
There are many technical, process and staff related barriers to sourcing clean, quality data that is assembled in a coherent and integrated manner. Processes need to be realigned with a changing business strategy, staff members need training and your organisation's culture needs to be adjusted.
Such a broad change management activity requires you to define a clear charter for your competency centre, meaningful end-state productivity KPIs, a collaborative, agile approach, and an implementation culture that waits for each business area to be nurtured through a productive consumption and release cycle.
Remember that you don't need to re-build your competency centre around a transition to big data. However, you should periodically review how effectively the centre is servicing new and revised information sets, and how well business areas are positioned to make it worthwhile.
Your competency centre must integrate with existing operational ITIL service and change management processes to safely create new linkages between data sets and potentially generate complex changes to data schemas.
Getting these integrated processes correctly integrated is critical if you want to consistently deliver through the combined and distributed skills of your business specialists, release expertise and technologists.
Stage 4: Expand your competency centre's capabilities
The global reach of today's consumer means that to compete effectively, our businesses must find new ways to complement simple product and service offerings.
Consumers now demand a richer, tailored experience that creates a compelling desire for them to remain loyal advocates.
The true business value may reside in increasing the agility of your organisation to provide better products and services, or simply increasing consumer information accessibility such that they can make informed decisions around their options to tailor existing service consumption.
Where the implementation of a competency centre is expected to lead to an increased headcount, this can often be financed by the practical improvements achieved today, whilst offsetting or delaying expensive system investments.
For example, Viessmann, an international heating systems manufacturer headquartered in Germany, has been able to service 150 report users with a competence centre staff by two part time workers.
You could also consider creating a 'virtual competency centre'. This provides an effective option where the value proposition for establishing or increasing dedicated headcount is not sound. This concept must however, be implemented along with a business user education program; and with true organisational buy-in by all contributing business units.
Stage 5: Establish self-service reporting
Organisations that draw competitive advantage from their data go well beyond standard reports. With the help of their competency centres, they explore the wealth of supporting information through ad-hoc reports using self-service tools.
It is not necessary for the centre to unify all reporting through a single toolset, but rather assist to promote and leverage where existing reporting tools offer pragmatic self-service capabilities.
Implementing a competency centre will enable you to understand marketing campaigns in real-time. It will also enable you to respond immediately to any sudden market changes that impact your business environment -- rather than lamenting the results in the next quarterly report.
We see this stage best achieved through an iterative 'department by department' implementation that encourages active feedback and accepts progressive continuous improvement to shape the deployment schedule.
Embracing the suggestions and learnings from business users is a key element to securing the cultural adoption necessary for self-service reporting to succeed.
It is the expert and engaged support of the centre that enables the business to mature its self-service reporting capability, and actively expose the tacit knowledge required to gain competitive advantage.
CIOs must play an active role in creating and governing a competency centre if they are to harness the value of information that flows 'from' rather than 'through' technology platforms. It is this information flow that ultimately delivers on your promise to provide timely decision support across your entire organisation.
David Gee is managing director at G3 Services. He has previously held senior IT leadership positions for Boeing Defence Australia and QSuper; and is a founding member of the CIO Executive Council in Australia.
Matthias Fetz is managing director at DataMovers. He has successfully delivered business intelligence solutions for international companies in the finance, mining and retail sectors.