When it comes to digital transformation, many organizations either don’t know where to start or they’re jumping off the wrong diving board.

A recent survey refers to these companies as data survivors. In contrast to data thrivers, who are already turning digital transformation (DX) to their advantage, many data survivors are just hoping to wait out this DX phase until things get back to normal. But that's never going to happen. Digital transformation is the new normal.

As blaring evidence, more than 10 major retailers filed for bankruptcy in 2017. As we’ve seen through headlines and empty parking lots, even big box stores are losing market share to online shopping.

Although the demand for online retail options may seem like a natural evolution, a significant catalyst drove this switch: that is, the use of the data at hand. These online retailers flourished because they used insights from their data to drive opportunities for their business, while big box retailers lost ground as they used data primarily to reinforce their current business strategy.

The aforementioned recent survey from IDC and commissioned by NetApp found that most businesses are struggling with DX. Currently, the vast majority of companies fall into the data survivor camp. They are largely unaware of the transformative power of their data and struggle to find innovative touch points that resonate with the dynamic interests of users and customers.

On the other end of the spectrum are the comparatively rare data thrivers who build or adapt their business around the data and everything else is in service to that.

The first step to becoming a data thriver is to recognize the importance of putting data at the center of the business and then become willing to make it so. There has been a notable shift to viewing data as an asset and even as the input to the business rather than just a tool. With today’s data coming in massive waves from a multitude of sources, it is imperative to identify what data can provide business value and insight and then take action accordingly to drive DX initiatives.

This also goes beyond the current data at hand to include combinations with data and insight from other sources to discover completely new business opportunities in addition to new products and services.

Next, the right people and technology need to be put in place. Some companies may choose to drive a DX initiative out of IT, some may choose to start with marketing, while others may create an entirely new DX team – whoever holds the creative strength for the task and can move quickly. Once the DX team has been identified, this group must ensure the business can harness infrastructure to manage data efficiently and expedite analysis.

With the explosion of machine generated data, DX teams across industries will face an interesting new challenge in that data will grow faster than the ability to transport it, and that will be okay.

For example, in automated retail environments, data from sensors on each product and shelf will inform local decisions and provide insights that ultimately drive everything from inventory management to purchasing. In the automotive world, the sensors in autonomous cars will generate so much data that there won’t be a network fast enough between the cars and data centers to move it; instead the data will require real-time analysis at the edge in order to make critical in-the-moment decisions.

Meanwhile, the dynamic nature of data will introduce implications for new edge, core and cloud architectures. As devices at the edge generate more and more data, the amount of data ingested in the core will always be less than the amount generated at the edge with the right data being retained for later decision-making. Managing this data retention is important to the success of DX and the development of new business opportunities.

The final step is about mindset and process. With the retail example mentioned earlier, the big box retailers say, “I have this overwhelming amount of data, how can I use it to improve my business flow as a big box retailer?” Here they end up using it for inventory management, figuring out what goes on the shelf, understanding pricing and looking at what is selling.

Meanwhile, the online retailers are asking, “How can I use data to be my business? The side effect is I sell stuff.” In this case, they use the data to understand the customer and what to put in front of them. This is centering the business around the data rather than using the data to analyze what has already happened.

The nature of data is evolving to allow companies to do just that. As data becomes increasingly diverse, metadata will make it possible for the data to proactively transport, categorize, analyze and protect itself – in other words, it will become self-aware. The data will deliver the exact information a user needs at the exact time they need it. For businesses that are data-centric, self-aware data will enable a more efficient automated business process and flow.

Building a DX plan that puts the power of data at the core keeps enterprises a step ahead of competitors and encourages growth while strengthening their foothold in the market. Data Survivors who fail to recognize the value of data can sabotage adaptation to the changing landscape and delay or even squash their own transformative efforts. With a data-driven DX plan, data thriver organizations are using data to discover brand new business opportunities and generate new offerings and services that increase customer touch points, outpace the market, and exemplify the new normal.

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