Businesses rely more and more on data to drive their day-to-day decisions, but the most savvy organizations also understand that data can used as a crystal ball to predict the future in a fast-changing world.
If only there was really such a thing as spidey-sense.
The ability of Spider-Man to sense things about to go terribly wrong would be of great benefit to many businesses today. Teams would know to stay away from innovations that no one wants. Leaders would know the projects that are about to implode.
Unfortunately, such a thing doesn’t exist in the real world. Instead, teams and leaders must develop other ways to figure out what will work, and what won’t. That ability in today’s super-competitive marketplace may be the difference in thriving – or going off the cliff.
David Schatsky, business and technology trends research and strategy advisor and senior manager at Deloitte LLP, says that teams in any industry can learn to be smarter about spotting trends so that they can make better decisions now and in the future. The key, he says, is that they have to spend time looking outside their own department or even industry to understand the broader picture.
“It really comes down to a question of time and focus,” he says. “You’ve got to have one eye on today and one eye on the horizon.”
He says more and more leaders – including those in technology – are being asked to be strategists. They can no longer rely only on the data and information that comes from within an organization to make decisions and set priorities, and must actively reach out to gather new insights, he says.
CIOs in particular, he says, must play a dual role within organizations as they serve as builders of technology and builders of the business. CIOs acknowledge their roles are expanding – describing their roles in terms such as “imagination,” chief innovation officer” and “revenue-generator CIO,” Schatsky says.
At the same time, it’s more than just imagination at play – companies spent more than $30 billion globally on big data technology and services in 2013, research shows, revealing the importance of technology on future strategic initiatives and in recognizing key trends.
Still, that doesn’t mean that leaders are confident in their ability to keep up: A survey of 2,300 CIOs globally found that half feel unable to cope with the pace of change being brought about by digital technologies, with 40% admitting they don’t have the talent they need.
Deloitte is an example of how companies are trying to understand how technology impacts all industries and work to spot trends. For example, Schatsky says that Deloitte works to make “sensing an integral part of our culture,” and even developed a new online course on artificial intelligence based on the trends it was seeing.
Of course, one of the biggest challenges in spotting trends (or impending doom) is not only the lack of spidey-sense, but the lack of time. That’s why some organizations are turning to “bimodal IT,” where one group keeps hacking through the forest while the other group climbs to the top of the trees to see what might be coming.
Those who are using the bimodal approach say it pays off in better agility, greater workforce efficiency and a more responsive customer focus. The danger, of course, is that the teams may feel one is favored over the other or one has greater resources. Leaders must work diligently to ensure there is good communication and coordination between the two teams. In addition, the innovation team can’t be allowed to dump projects on the operations team without proper transitioning.
Schatsky says that organizations must stop having a “heads down” philosophy to get work done, but must instead develop a culture that establishes an ingrained habit to look for “signals” that affect an organization or industry. For example, economic indicators such as interest rates might be important, but teams may also need to look at patent filings, consumer preferences and regulatory action.
“In a world where the pace of change continues to accelerate, sensing has become an essential discipline for all organizations,” he says.
Clarabridge, a technology company that analyzes customer feedback for companies such as Verizon and Marriott, advises one of the best ways to spot trends is by analyzing customer data. Some of its suggestions include:
“Above all, it needs to be understood that technology is there to serve the business,” Schatsky says. “The people who get ahead are the ones who understand the business objectives.”