Q&A with Donald Farmer

As part of our ongoing industry expert series, we caught up with data analytics thought leader and TreeHive Strategy principal, Donald Farmer on his perspective on the state of digital transformation and its implications on data connectivity.

What’s your assessment on the state of digital transformation progress?

These days, I rarely meet an enterprise that has not committed to, as they say, going digital. However, they often have vague or varying ideas of what this means in practice. For some, it’s little more than a process of becoming paperless. Others are bolder and see great promise in building and administering all their business workflows with software.

The result is, I can talk to almost any business about digital transformation and heads will nod. But it takes a little more digging to find out why they are nodding.

Which areas are you seeing companies having the most success?

I see solid – and often quite timely – successes in two areas.

Firstly, digitization of supply chain management – whether for manufacturing or retail – can have a real impact on the efficiency of the business. There are so many problems downstream from the supply chain, such as product quality, staffing, and invoicing. Many of these issues can be improved or solved when the documentation of the supply is accurate, up-to-date and readily accessible across the business.

The second area, which has long been digitized for many businesses, is Customer Relationship Management (CRM.) The benefits of CRM are well-recognized, including the ability to manage a customer’s experience to mutual advantage, reducing lost opportunities, and greater insight into the sales funnel. Nevertheless, too many companies still regard it as additional overhead.

What are the key challenges?

Talking about CRM reminds me of one of the big challenges – encouraging employee engagement. Salespeople are notoriously reluctant to put in the effort needed to maintain the CRM system data, yet good quality data is at the heart of CRM’s promise

It’s often the same with other digitization projects; the benefits are too vague, or sometimes the threat of being taken over by a digital process is too clear, for staff to take the time to engage with the technologies and learn from them.

Why do projects not succeed?

Well, to be clear – if staff are not engaged the project will fail. But equally, if staff are not engaged through either indifference or digital anxiety, we cannot really blame them. One of the most important things that management and IT teams can do to ensure successful digital transformation is to sell the benefits clearly, and personally, to the staff involved. If you are not doing that from day one, you are on the path to failure. An important part of that message is to show how analytics can improve even simple business processes.

What are the most critical components to success in digital transformation?

That’s an easy one: people, data and analysis. We’ve already talked about people and data. The truth is, every business today is a data business, whether they like it or not. And every data business needs to be an analytics business to keep their edge sharp.  Looking ahead, every analytics business will soon need to be an advanced analytics business and you should at least be looking at that.

Where does data connectivity fit into this?

Data is the lifeblood of digital transformation. And connectivity enables that lifeblood to flow. Without connectivity to as many of your applications as possible, digital transformation will be incomplete and ineffective. The trouble is that IT departments can’t keep up with the endless updates and changes to connectors. Even so-called legacy connectors are constantly changing to maintain compatibility with shifting platforms and protocols.

To date, there’s been no easy way for businesses and ISVs to keep pace and manage the fragmented approach for acquiring and maintaining data source drivers. The Simba team at Magnitude Software have cracked the code with a recent offering, Magnitude Gateway. This platform simplifies the ability to connect to the growing array of applications and data sources in the cloud and at the edge of the enterprise.

For more considerations on unified data access, check out Tony Fisher’s article on the new requirements for prioritizing data connectivity.