Jul 15 2021
Data Analytics

CDW Tech Talk: How Analytics Can Give Your Organization a Competitive Edge

Businesses can look to IT solutions to provide a leg up on their competition.

Data was plentiful and valuable before the global pandemic, but widespread remote work forced an accelerated migration to the cloud and an increase in endpoints. That has resulted in data being created, collected, stored and managed everywhere.

Businesses are always looking for ways to get ahead of their competitors, and data is one of the most valuable tools they can use. Even though data is so readily available, however, many organizations struggle to mine that value.

The pandemic gave many organizations the opportunity to discover how data analytics could change the way they work. During that time, Lenovo developed what it calls its Field C Suite. Team members Adrian Escobedo, Ed Soo-Hoo and John Encizo shared their experiences during CDW’s Tech Talk webcast.

“The Field C Suite is, basically, our charter is to help our customers realize their business initiatives, their business KPIs that they report back to their stockholders and to their board, through the use of technology,” Escobedo explained. “So, if I’m going to achieve a business initiative, how do I use technology to do that? How do I get from where I’m at today to where I want to go?”

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To Enable Innovation, Remove Silos From IT Infrastructure

Organizations often view their IT departments as impediments to growth and innovation. Soo-Hoo said many business units are accustomed to hearing their IT leaders reject a proposed project because it takes too long, it’s too expensive or it’s too risky.

These days, however, more IT organizations are taking what he calls a “risk reassessment of themselves as it applies to the business,” Soo-Hoo said. “And due to that, we’re finding that more and more IT organizations are seeing this growth opportunity and the ability to get closer to the business, or embedding themselves inside the business rather than waiting for the business to tell them what they want.”

Escobedo explained that eliminating a siloed approach to IT offers more flexibility. “If you actually allow IT to pull the business forward rather than push initiatives down on IT, you actually get a better, smoother-flowing business that can actually pivot or change,” he said.

The idea of breaking down silos and empowering business units to participate in IT decisions is what led Lenovo to create the Field C Suite. “You take a business vertical — marketing, logistics, sales — and you start giving them the opportunity to be IT people or to start speaking the IT language,” Escobedo said. “What happens is you start getting IT intelligence flowing back and forth from that dark closet into the actual business unit.”

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Bringing IT Out of the Closet – a Shift in Philosophy and Culture

Encizo spoke about bringing IT out of the server closet and encouraging conversation with other business units. IT leaders should be asking, “What is the business need? What are my demands as an IT organization? I have to provide governance. I have to provide reliability. I have to provide innovation or new technologies,” he said.

Implementing such a major change in culture, though, involves overcoming some obstacles. Escobedo spoke about the challenges facing IT organizations in this position, saying, “One of the biggest barriers to transformation is technical debt. There are so many projects that I have to maintain just to keep the lights on.” It often becomes difficult to find the funding, skill and peak hours in the day to execute a transformation.

“The critical component is the time and the executive sponsorship, and we see that a lot of times it’s a barrier to entry,” Encizo said. Companies sometimes forget that IT is an investment in the growth of the business.

Turning Potential into Action Through Technology

Soo-Hoo explained how the Field C Suite tries to help customers realize the potential of their data. “The C Suite goes in and changes the dynamics from a catalytic standpoint, and drives awareness, perception and even the art of the possible,” he said.

Escobedo followed up by explaining how the Field C Suite will “look at what the technologies are to actually make it possible to execute those things. Whether you’re talking about digital twins in manufacturing or retail, it doesn’t matter. The technology is basically the same; it’s the application of that technology,” he said.

Soo-Hoo also highlighted the versatility of IT tools for various industries by pointing out the ways the Field C Suite has helped clients change their points of view. Data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other solutions can help organizations think about themselves more creatively but still keep the focus on their business.

Using Analytics to Achieve Business Outcomes

Mark Chong, senior vice president of strategy and marketing at CDW, explained that CDW has a standard process that begins with identifying a key question or problem the customer needs to solve. Then he recommends setting up a small team that is untethered from day-to-day operations and resourced separately from other budgets.

“The first step is having clean data to work with,” Chong said. “And I would venture to guess that the biggest stumbling block for anybody starting this journey of sort of going beyond the typical data reporting is having usable data — not a small task.”

Chong detailed an example from his experience working with data science at CDW. Many account managers were missing emails from customers with requests for quotes, he said. A lot of these requests were being overlooked because they were buried within the thousands of emails the account managers were receiving each day. Realizing the value and importance of these quote requests, however, allowed CDW to pinpoint a specific problem in need of a solution.

This problem led to the development of a digital account manager assistant named Amanda, which can automatically sift through thousands of emails, recognize a request for a quote, prepare a quote for the customer and send the account manager an alert and the digitally prepared quote. Chong touted the value of this tool for CDW’s account managers, saying, “It’s now been rolled out to almost all of our sellers, and we continually add new skills to Amanda, so you can ask Amanda as if it’s a live person to do lots of other things.”

The Three Pillars of Data Science

Amarnath Lingam, head of enterprise advanced analytics and data science at CDW, also joined the conversation to talk about data science. “When you talk about data science and AI, they’re often used interchangeably. So, I think the way to look at it is you need to have a strong data strategy to enable an AI strategy. And what I mean by that is the setting up of our basic definitions, the hierarchy, the governance and security processes around the data that is required to be an input into the analytics and the data science and AI practice.”

Lingam said a discussion of data science should focus on ways to advance the analytics to be more predictive to help with business decision-making and provide insight where it might not be expected. “I think that’s what our focus has been, and when it comes to the data science, that’s a broader model when compared to the AI. When you go into the AI, you’re going into machine learning, deep learning, neural networks and so on, and data

Being able to depict the insights derived from your data, to mine that data and unlock its value, and ultimately to convert it into a product for business users to consume, such as an app or a dashboard, are the three pillars of data science, Lingam said.

Follow BizTech’s full coverage of the CDW Tech Talk series here. Insiders can register for the event series here.

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