With alarming regularity supposed experts and commentators predict the demise of the chief information officer (CIO) role. Yet if they were to listen to the leading CIOs present at a recent round table dinner hosted with Intel, these commentators would realise just how far off the mark they really are. The evening's topic was Big Data, and the Business IT Hub could summarise the thoughts shared in just two words - big opportunity.
There were so many opinions and opportunities shared at this gathering that we've surmised them into themes and the vertical markets exploiting those opportunities.
But before we delve into the depths of Big Data, it is worth considering why it is CIOs that see and are enacting on the opportunities of Big Data. First, it is the CIO that knows and is more than likely responsible for the masses of data organisations are already the custodians of. This may be in legacy mainframes, on global enterprise resource planning applications, transactional databases or in the interactions with the organisation's growing web presence.
It is also the CIO that is pivotal to the current desire by companies to drive up mobility, which in turn enables and opens up the organisation to greater interactions on social media platforms. Each and every one of these instances creates more data.
CIOs in the last decade have proved themselves to be business focused, with a strong understanding of business operations, outcomes and ambitions. Yet they have not lost their inherent passion for technology, thankfully. As high speed networks become ubiquitous, storage costs remain relatively flat there has arisen the ability to place sensors and network every interaction an organisation has with customers and suppliers. Coupled with that business acumen, the CIO is now able to provide the organisation with knowledge it could only previously dream of.
The CIOs present at the Intel round table put real examples of the above on the table for all to discuss. Probably the examples that garnered the most interest by all was a truly inspirational example of the CIO helping the organisation discover new revenue sources. Providing an insight into what he would present to the CIO Summit the following day, William Payne, CIO of French environmental services firm Veolia, explained how using data collected from the separation systems it uses at its waste and recycling centres Veolia was extracting wasted cadmium, a precious metal that had made its way on to the streets from car catalytic converters. Having collected the cadmium, Veolia sells this precious metal back to the metals industry for a considerable sum.
Again, discussing part of his presentation for the CIO Summit, Trevor Didcock of low cost airline easyJet explained how the company’s recent change in operational strategy to allocated seating instead of the free-for-all it had operated since launch, had come about through careful analysis of data available to the company from sensors in the aircraft informing the easyJet management of every time one of its Airbus planes connects to or pushes back from an airport terminal.
A brace of media CIOs discussed how the recent trends in internet viewing through catch up services, but also TV's love of social networks was providing them with a greater ability to connect with their customers. With greater knowledge of customer behaviour these organisations are delivering beneficial services to retain loyalty.
The broadcasting CIOs did sound a note of caution though, in the increasingly connected world, content can be discussed, shared and opinions formed in an instant, which is playing havoc with schedules and commercial relationships. But back to more positive news for the media, all broadcasters are sitting on a wealth of content, chock full of data and are pursuing digitisation programmes that create data feeds that will revolutionise how consumers access media and archives that are a step change from YouTube and the Internet Movie Database.
Helping consumers relive classic TV moments is fun and no doubt will end up profitable as YouTube has, but helping people who really need help is also one of the more unexpected advantages Big Data will offer society. CIOs in housing trusts and the public sector are carrying out analysis of how data and business intelligence technology can provide their communities with enhanced services that then create opportunities for people to be healthier, educated, climb out of poverty and play a greater role in society.
Lastly, no CIO discussion can take place today in the western world without considering the role technology can play in reducing organisational costs. Again referring to their CIO Summit presentations Veolia's William Payne and easyJet's Trevor Didcock described scenarios where data collection informed and drove cost reductions. Both companies are heavily reliant on fossil fuels to power their vehicles and as oil prices continue to raise these two organisations are keen to cut their usage to save money and they like the green credentials that come with it.
Each Veolia vehicle now has sensors that record the acceleration and braking. Excessive use of both increases fuel consumption and thus costs to the company, its local authority clients and the environment. Veolia now ranks and awards good driving across the organisation and has drastically cuts its fuel bill.
At easyJet, Tevor Didcock's team monitored the potable water level requirements of each flight and in doing so ensured that very short flights carry only the necessary levels of water, which in turn saves on fuel. Previously all aircraft had their portable water reservoirs filled, no matter the journey the aircraft was about to make.
What was inspiring about the discussion at this round table was that Big Data offers not only CIOs opportunities, but benefits the workforce, customers, society and the environment.