At the Gartner Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit that took place in London last month, focus was placed on the digitalization of business and how “fluid” application strategies were needed to support this change. In essence, it was “IT should adapt or it will become irrelevant and get bypassed” – never an enjoyable perspective.

Digitalization in an organization or a market is like water: It flows everywhere, bypassing obstructions. Have you tried to stop a flood by placing an obstacle in its path? Water just takes a circuitous route or dislodges the obstacle altogether. And like water, the disruption of digitalization goes on, flowing downhill, defying barriers. Consider for example digital currency such as Bitcoin: It bypasses financial and political controls simply because nobody can get a grasp on it, and when major retailers finally accept this digital currency there won’t be any going back. Or consider file sharing (Dropbox), over which IT is now struggling to regain control because it simply got bypassed.

Digitalization produces data. It can be an expected consequence, such as the result of social analytics or the measures from sensors in connected objects. It can also be an unintended byproduct, found in log files, usage metrics and more. Intended or not, data volumes have the potential to be overwhelming. And like water, this data flows downhill, bypassing obstacles, until it reaches a place where it will create either value – or devastation.

There is a place where data flowing from digitalization can go: the data lake. The data lake gets filled by all the new data resulting from digitalization. This is the place it reaches when flowing downhill. This is also the place where the data becomes leverageable to extract new insight, new value.

To remain relevant, IT must help data reach and fill the data lake. It will get there anyway, ultimately. IT should dig the trenches and canals and lay the pipes that ensure it gets there safely, without mudslides or flash floods which would have devastating consequences on every piece of IT infrastructure it finds on its way.

Don’t view data as simply a byproduct of digitalization. View it as new potential to fill the data lake, and help it flow there safely.