The data journey: beyond the next fix
Unlocking the power of data across an organisation is a marathon, not a sprint. But even those who appreciate the need for long-term thinking can get lost along the way.
Banking is an intensive, immersive business. So a degree of firefighting is inevitable. But it’s important to prevent short-term imperatives from hampering long-term strategy. It’s not just putting out fires that can lead to lost momentum and wasted investment in data capabilities; operational drift can also lead to banks being left behind in the race to innovate.
A very real danger
Such failures do not reflect a lack of dedication, competence, or commitment to the customer experience. They tend to be a case of, as systems writer Russell Ackoff has said, “The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become.”
Business-critical moments can overshadow the bigger picture. If a multi-million pound digital or data transformation program is not going to plan, that will inevitably be the focus. Organisations are by their nature split into component parts, and the focus is often on fixing the thing that is broken, rather than considering the wider picture.
Similarly, history is filled with cautionary tales of businesses that focused on the wrong thing at the wrong time but you don’t need to be a Blockbuster, Blackberry or a Kodak to know this. It is sometimes easy to judge organisations from a future vantage point which has since been blessed with the gift of 20/20 hindsight. But Financial Institutions today needn’t even consider this, a cursory glance towards other industries and see the Teslas and Amazons of this world breaking new ground with new imaginative business models, powered by data, in industries that they don’t have the ‘right’ to compete in should tell you all you need to know.
Thinking that it is okay to be one step ahead of your nearest rival is the wrong game to play in a data-driven world.
The bigger picture
A reactive approach can lead to incremental improvements, but all too often, it’s distracting and demoralising. The desire to “get stuff done” means different ways of seeing risks and opportunities can be missed. Talk of deckchairs, titanic ships and the rearranging of said chairs is an apt analogy for the dangers of such narrow thinking,
We’ve touched on this before when talking about the importance of momentum when implementing a data strategy, and it presents a very real danger to large organisations in an increasingly long-tail business environment. Focusing on the problem at hand and not keeping the bigger picture in mind leads to strategic blindspots – organisations end up missing the Ubers and the AirBnBs of this world because they are so focused on the minutiae of the everyday.
Sticking with the data journey
Long-term thinking is especially important where data infrastructure is concerned – there needs to be a horizon for what the business could be. And one way to approach that is to assume that you’ve already reached your destination. Visualising a positive outcome – ‘miracle thinking’, as this is sometimes referred to – can enable you to define what success means and how being truly data-enabled might transform your business. With the destination in sight, the next step is to put together a roadmap for how to get there.
That is, of course, an oversimplified overview of a complex process and yet, the ability to explore what might be can be liberating for companies that are used to only doing things one way. The business models of the future might not exist today but they certainly won’t resemble the way businesses operate now. If this is understood, the possible opportunities and value gains become clear.
Of course, unlocking the transformative power of data takes more than just a well-crafted strategy. It means engaging with an entire constellation of challenges, including organisational structure, innovation mindset, behavioural change and diverse thinking and ways of working.
Most of all, achieving success means engaging with your people, enabling and empowering them to look beyond the day-to-day details of their job and see the wider picture – so they understand how it can help them and the wider organisation. Often those serving at the sharp end of the business spot issues and opportunities that the C-Suite might not.
Two sides of the same coin
It’s worth emphasising that not every CEO needs to be a futurologist. Large organisations have the clout and collateral to catch up with challengers, so they don’t need to become obsessed with horizon scanning at the detriment of keeping the lights on today. They simply need to spot trends forming early in the cycle, and invest in innovation, and the organisational mindset that that entails to be able to capitalise on the future.
This is a key point to make when considering data-driven reinvention – the framework is one of possibility, not a fixed path meaning there can be many winners in this non-linear race.
Implementing a data strategy is a process. Like any journey, there will be up and downs, obstacles, and periods where the going is good. The trick to sticking with the data journey and seeing it through is to recognise that tactical and strategic imperatives are not mutually exclusive. They are two sides of the same coin. In order to unlock the power of data, banks need to be simultaneously proactive and reactive.