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Data the engine for innovation to improve business, serve customers, speaker suggests

August 30, 2017   by Angela Stelmakowich

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Organizations can be the driving force behind innovation that transforms their operations and helps them better serve customers, but those advances will increasingly rely on having a store of good data available, it was suggested Tuesday during the 5th Annual Executive Forum in downtown Toronto.

“You don’t have to abdicate your responsibilities to the start-ups of the world,” Debbie Landers, vice president of cognitive solutions for IBM Canada, told attendees of the forum.

“There’s lots of room in here for internal innovation and entrepreneurship and capability that you develop or you drive to be developed on your behalf,” Landers said during the session, Cognitive Computing: Future Proof Your Competitive Advantage.

“Clearly, the start-ups are innovative” and “they’re helping us to break through ways of thinking that we may never have thought about before,” she told attendees.

But Landers emphasized there are plenty of large companies with start-up mentalities. There are those established players “reinventing their business models in order to drive strategic change,” Landers noted.

“Resistance is futile,” she quipped. “Innovation is going to happen, so you’re either in it and driving it, or you are left behind,” she cautioned.

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Companies must consider what they need to do to “be differentiated and disruptive where you need to be disruptive. How will you partner with those fintechs that are being disruptive in a way that helps you advance your business, rather than seeing them as a threat?” she queried.

Whatever decisions are made regarding partnering or going it alone, Landers emphasized that organizations need to start thinking about their future IT structures. “It is the baseline for what you do. There will be no way to not have tech involved in a lot of what you’re going to do,” she noted.

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Now “is the dawn of a new era that will involve hybrid clouds, that will involve multiple kinds of applications that are integrated across the clouds,” Landers told forum attendees.

As such, “it’s very important to start thinking about what is the data you have, what is the data you will want to access in order to be able to get more of those insights, what are those building blocks on which you will build?” she asked.

“Data is the new natural resource. It is the thing that trades opportunity for unforeseen insights and capabilities for your business in order to drive that innovation in the future,” she suggested.

There is plenty of promising technology available – from artificial intelligence (AI) to cognitive computing, cloud and advanced analytics – that can help “get your business where it needs to be,” Landers pointed out.

Once there is a clear understanding of data available, it will be possible for companies to start thinking about specific use cases. “So, it’s not an AI strategy; it’s how you use AI to increase revenue or increase customer retention or revamp client process or get out of doing something in a certain way,” Landers explained. “What is that use case for which you can make an immediate difference?”

To be ready for innovation, “it’s not enough to have an innovation office; you have to have that baseline behind them in order to help them do the innovation that you want,” Landers noted.

“We are all in a time of tremendous change, tremendous disruption. Whatever industry you’re in, no one gets to sit this one out,” she told forum attendees. “Innovation is a strategic imperative of this decade, perhaps this generation.”

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But there is plenty that remains to be done internally, Landers suggested. “It may be silos in your business of data and systems, and people who have done things the way they’ve always done them. There may be gaps in expertise or skills that you need to be competitive for the future and it may be an inability to react quickly,” she said.

Noting that the “human capacity for absorbing the amount of technical change that we’re going through at the moment has now been exceeded, we need to do things in order to be able to address that gap to be able to be ready for the future,” she added.

“Business strategy and technology strategy are one in the same today,” Landers emphasized. “We believe there’s use cases across the value chain in insurance,” she told attendees. “Again, whether you do it yourself, you partner with somebody, you have a trusted advisor helping you do it, you bring a fintech in – there’s a whole spectrum of things that can be done to take advantage of this capability.”