In less than a decade, the proliferation of digital technologies ― social, mobile and cloud computing ― has revolutionized relationships between clients and business, and produced new ways of delivering and consuming information. Interactions between brands and consumers are now constant, instantaneous and multidimensional.

These changes provide vast opportunities for companies able to move quickly to exploit these technologies. But for IT leaders who are embracing digital transformation, they also present some steep hurdles. As CIOs build IT infrastructures that balance support for their organization’s existing operations with new digital realities, they’re faced with a fundamental challenge: how to succeed in both areas simultaneously. Part of the challenge has to do with the transition in mind-set that comes with moving from a role that is focused more on the operational elements of the job, to one that is more strategic in nature.

CIOs need to know what drives the business, how business processes work and how these pieces all fit together. In part, that knowledge requires adopting a strategic role in which CIOs work more closely with the business to identify where and how they can provide new product or service innovations.

Building a digital foundation

To succeed amid today’s disruptive digital forces, CIOs need to be smarter in how they approach data. While the digital age has brought a massive influx of data brimming with potentially useful insights, many organizations still struggle to unlock its full value.

At the heart of digital transformation is the ability to develop actionable insights. The key is to gain smarter, more accurate insights faster than the competition and then translate them into action. What is needed to achieve this objective? Data. Not just your organization’s internal data, but also external data sets such as weather, social and other open data sets that are freely available. And this data needs to be fluid so it is accessible at any time, from any location and in context for the specific user.

This explosion of data requires IT infrastructure that is not only able to synthesize and make sense of it all, but also capable of integrating across customer touch points. The ability to leverage information and relationships across channels, business units and supply chain partners is essential for managing digital operations. This approach makes it possible for organizations to maximize value and increase speed to market, for example, or to equip employees with information that enables them to exceed customer expectations.

Embracing cognitive technologies

Becoming a digital organization is not the destination, but rather the foundation for what comes next: a new form of digital intelligence. The proliferation of applications, mobile devices, social networks and the Internet of Things has resulted in an explosion of big data, ushering in the new cognitive era. Cognitive technology is transforming engagement models across industry sectors, helping businesses better understand customers, effectively integrate old and new systems, and optimize their operations.

Powered by cloud-based delivery models, cognitive technologies are not bound by traditional technical limitations. Instead, cloud and hybrid cloud enable IT and business leaders to use their internal and external data to create insights and recommendations that impact the business. Cognitive computing is expected to enable the digital transformation of society and business through learning and interacting naturally with people to extend―not replace—what humans can do.

A key differentiator of this cognitive era will be the use of unstructured data in the form of images, conversations and free-form text to create insights at a scale never seen before. Data that was previously invisible to computers is now being used by cognitive technologies to understand, reason and learn, providing a new field for innovation and meaningful assistance to users.

Highway business in China, for example, accounts for more than 87 percent of passenger transportation. Huaxia Express applied cognitive science with big data analytics to transform a traditional process for bus ticketing to an e-ticketing solution that helped greatly accelerate the ticketing process. In addition, competitive analysis of the vast volume of existing transportation system data helped improve servicing this large-scale capacity while enhancing the customer experience for passengers.

Rewriting traditional roles

CIOs now hold dual responsibilities as technology stewards and expert advisors for using information and analytics to better inform the business, improve the company’s agility and employ technology to create enhanced customer experiences. That accountability requires adopting a strategic role in which they work more closely with the business to develop new services and drive innovation. Those CIOs who can master this role are gaining more influence and a new status within enterprise hierarchies.

Learn how to accelerate your digital transformation with an IT infrastructure built for the cognitive era.

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