It’s the Data, Stupid!

Like the original “The Economy, Stupid” sign that hung in the Clinton Presidential Campaign Headquarters, every CIO should have “It’s the data, stupid” hanging in their offices as a reminder to maintain focus. One of the most significant impacts of all of the changes hitting the CIO is data and how to turn it into actionable information.


A recent article on CIO Magazine’s blog, “CIOs Destined to Be Kings of Customer Data” by Tom Kaneshige drew some interesting comments. Several decried the point of the article saying instead, it has always been the CIO’s job to manage data. I would challenge the naysayers, and say...it’s different now.


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Yes, we have always been responsible for managing transactional data. A few decades ago, with the birth of data warehousing, and business intelligence tools, we assumed the responsibility to be the stewards of analytical data as well. But today’s data (and by inference, tomorrow’s data) makes data of old look like a drop of water in an ocean. With the growth of mobility and the Internet of Things, data is literally exploding all around us.

Much of this data will not be contained behind our firewalls and closed doors, only to be accessed by those with the special golden key (or password as the case may be). Our attitudes must evolve and adapt to this massive onslaught of data and devices generating that data. Our responsibilities are changing to that of integration, data provisioning, and relating disparate sources of data together. More and more executives are using Data Driven Decision processes to help them guide their companies. The quality and the timeliness of the data is paramount to the success of these firms.

Many companies are finding that they are no longer in the business they thought they were...they are in the business of data. Mike Tinksey of Ford Motor Company, speaking at the Connected World Conference last year stated point-blank, “we are not an automotive company, we are a data company”...an incredible shift of mindset. Realizing the value of data is changing the business models of companies across the globe. Call it the Google-factor, Google, Facebook, Twitter and countless others have proven you can give your “product” away and be a success on Wall Street, giving birth to the adage, “If it’s free, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.” Consumers are beginning to realize their personal data has value. This will lead to personal data becoming currency. We have already seen mobile phone users in Europe able to reduce their carrier bills by releasing their personal information to the carrier, who then replaces the ring tone the caller hears with an advertisement.

CIO’s who don’t see the potential and help drive the business model change will be left to control a shrinking portfolio of transactional tools.

At Goodwill, we have just begun to scratch the surface of this great potential. Until the launch of our loyalty card program two years ago, we knew very little about our shoppers and donors. What we did know was in the aggregate, via focus groups and anecdotal observations. We now have over 450,000 loyalty members. We know the individual, who they are, where they live, what they buy, where they buy it, when the buy it, what they donate, where they donate and when they donate. This enables to engage with our customers and a level we only dreamed of a few years ago.

We can know look at potential correlations in consumer retail behaviors, for example, if Macy’s, Target, and other retailers have a great month of sales, does our donation volume increase in response, followed by a sales increase. For an organization that survives and thrives on the generosity of our donors, being able to predict fluctuations in donations will be vital.

Soon we will be able to marry our internal data with external data sources to be able to measure our true effectiveness and our true impact on the lives of those we serve. For years, we had to be satisfied with the “McDonald’s Metric” for our services, rather than number of hamburgers served it was number of people served. The problem these leads to is not understanding our true impact. If Joe comes to us to help him find a job, and we find him one, that’s one served. Two months later, Joe has lost his job and comes back to get another one. That’s two served. That’s great...but did we really help Joe?

Wouldn’t it be great if we could track all of the touchpoints Joe has within our programs and services and then check back in with Joe in, say two years after he has left our programs and find the delta in his life. When he first came to us, he was making x amount of income and was on y amount of government assistance. After two years, he is make x1 amount of income and is on y1 amount of government assistance. The change in those numbers begins to measure the impact we have had on Joe and his economic self-sufficiency and the economic impact on the community.

We could then take it a step further and measure the effectiveness of the various programs and services we offer, investing in those that are successful, improving or eliminating those that are not. We could then us predictive analytics to determine the path through our programs that would have the best chance in being successful for Joe.

That takes us from being the caretaker of transactional data to making a significant impact not only on our business, but on those we serve.

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are looking at the confluence of changes impacting the CIO and IT leadership. Next up “The CMO, the CIO’s new BFF”.


Jeffrey Ton is the SVP of Corporate Connectivity and Chief Information Officer for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, providing vision and leadership in the continued development and implementation of the enterprise-wide information technology and marketing portfolios, including applications, information & data management, infrastructure, security and telecommunications.


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Jeff Ton

About Jeff Ton

Throughout his career in business, Jeffrey Ton has developed and fine tuned his leadership skills to become a business focused leader who drives results. Extending the role of the CIO to encompass a strategic view of the business, he identifies innovative approaches to achieve the business objectives by leveraging technology where and when appropriate. Adept at building and leading teams, both in-line and cross-organizational, he has been a catalyst for change across the businesses he has served. Ton has industry expertise in information technology, non-profits, commercial real estate development, manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, supply chain, green/clean technologies, finance, insurance and consulting. Expertise: • Strategic Planning – Business & Technology • Organization & Management Reengineering • Merger & Acquisition Integration • Divestiture Decoupling • Business & IT Alignment • Enterprise Architecture Strategy • C-level Relationships • International Staff Management & Acquisition • Global Enterprise Implementations • Fiscal Management • Governance & Risk Management • Business Process Optimization • Vendor Relationship Management • Outsourcing(Offshore/Near-shore) & In-sourcing • Technology Portfolio Management • Regulatory and Compliance Management • P&L Management Specialties: Architecture, infrastructure, applications, application development, telecom, e-Business strategy, web development, knowledge management, integration, EDI, SAP, business intelligence, outsourcing, insourcing, contract negotiation, commercial real estate development, manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, supply chain, green/clean technologies, finance, insurance and consulting, keynote speaker on leadership, green and other topics, LEED AP BD+C. Read his blog on RiversofThought.net, Intel's IT Peer Network and LinkedIn.