Data is the source of everything, but it’s only worth anything if you combine it

Philippe Le Cerf

02-11-2019 | door: Marco van der Hoeven

Data is the source of everything, but it’s only worth anything if you combine it

Data has never been so accessible as it is now. Everyone now understands how important data is, as the source of practically everything,’ says Philippe le Cerf, former cio, now executive partner at Gartner. ‘But what is really interesting is combining internal with external data. We need to be doing more of that.

Philippe Le Cerf was previously IT Director at the Belgian telecoms operator Mobistar and then at Orange. As a former CIO, he boasts a wide range of experience with IT management strategies, experience he leverages in his current position as an Executive Partner at Gartner. ‘I’m sort of like a family doctor’, Le Cerf says, making a comparison that isn’t too unusual for him. ‘I’m somewhat of a sounding board and mentor for CIOs. I am a generalist that CIOs can come to straight away to talk about their problems or challenges. Some problems I can solve for them. For other, more complicated issues, I refer them to a Gartner specialist. It can also help to put one client in contact with others. Or even better, I recommend they visit the Gartner Symposium coming up in Barcelona. There’s a wealth of information to gather there.’

Le Cerf is looking forward to Barcelona. ‘There’s nowhere else in Europe that attracts so many colleagues looking to network and

so many knowledgeable analysts who can tell you anything and everything about IT and digital transformation. It’s the place to be to keep on top of developments in the sector. What’s going on in the world of technology? What are the latest business applications and how do you use them? As an IT leader, a trip to Barcelona is a golden opportunity.’


One particular trend we are seeing is how the potential of data is being harnessed. ‘Data is already really important, but is becoming even more important,’ says Le Cerf. ‘Every CIO now sees the importance of data as a source of just about everything. Internal data is a vital part of this, because every organization generates and uses data, and has data at its disposal. Yet, many companies are still not making the most of their data, and that is because they have no or little opportunity to combine it with external data. Combinations make things really interesting. And data has never been more accessible. There is so much data everywhere, especially on the internet, that you can link to. By combining data from external sources with data that you own or

control, you can generate huge things, beautiful things.’ This trend is now in motion, albeit moving rather slowly, observes Le Cerf. ‘If devices are physically connected, that creates new ecosystems. The Internet of Things isn’t just a buzzword anymore, it’s really here. My new car has a SIM card that is in continuous contact with the manufacturer. They always know where I am. That produces a very different dynamic and changes the relationship I have with my dealer. IoT has an effect on the chain. Our clients are using new product structures and platforms more and more to organize themselves, so they can mine data and bring new products and services to the market. I get a lot of questions from CIOs about this.’


The theme this year in Barcelona is Leading the Digital Society. Are CIOs ready to take on their role as a leader in a society where exchanging data electronically is part of their day-to-day routine? Or are they still preoccupied with digital transformation in their own organizations? Le Cerf thinks the latter is true. ‘CIOs in government naturally think about their societal role more than those in the private sector. But most CIOs still have much

further to go. That's why a visit to the Symposium is worthwhile, so they can keep ahead of the game. A term like “digital society” makes me think about the biggest problem that my clients are struggling with: corporate culture.’

Culture is one of the hardest things to change in an organization, Le Cerf believes. ‘Introducing new technologies is not easy, but it’s a mechanical process more than anything. You decide on the technology, install it, test it, and roll it out. If it doesn’t work, then you make adjustments. But using new technologies as they were meant to be and then adapting the way of working and business models to embrace the opportunities across the entire organization often requires a very different culture. That will also be on the program in Barcelona. I always advise my clients to bear this in mind, on top of the purely technical or more business-like topics.’


Amongst the biggest challenges that organizations are currently facing is the way they apply modern technologies in practice. ‘The technology is all there, it’s just about how we apply it,’ says Le Cerf. ‘We introduced the concept of Nexus of Forces at Gartner a few years ago, which describes how new business opportunities are being created through the fusion and mutual reinforcement of digital innovations – such as cloud, mobility, social media, and information patterns. What new techniques can you come up with if you combine different aspects of the Nexus of Forces with each other, harness the full potential of your own data, and link to external data? A completely different corporate culture is needed, and that is the hurdle that many come up against it. The technology is there, and the ideas are there to apply new technologies to new products, services, and applications. But organizations need to evolve, and that is the hardest thing of all.’ 

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