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How IoT and big data are transforming business

Clare Simmons — November 2015
Virgin Atlantic CIO David Bulman, digital visionary Peter Hinssen and CIO of Statoil Sonja Chirico Indrebø on unlocking the transformational power of IoT and big data.

The rise of the Internet of Things will turn the flow of data across — and between — organizations into a torrent. And the techniques for making sense of and exploiting such vast quantities of data remain firmly at the top of the CIO’s agenda.

At Virgin Atlantic, cutting-edge analytical techniques are now being “rolled out into revenue management, into customer management and elsewhere,” according to David Bulman, who was IT director at the airline group until early his year. Virgin Atlantic has looked at “all aspects of operations to see what it can do with the information it already has to make more effective business decisions.”

“The power of knowledge in a network can make a company really agile.”

At international oil and gas company Statoil, new techniques for analyzing vast amounts of data have the potential to impact upon every business area, says CIO Sonja Chirico Indrebø. With access to more data than ever before and an unprecedented ability to make sense of that data, “big data is transforming our industry and transforming Statoil,” she adds. “We’re seeing big benefits, and it’s changing the way we work.”

But companies that are seeking to fully exploit big data will need to rethink their structure, “to unfreeze and become fluid again,” argues Peter Hinssen digital visionary and author of The New Normal and The Network Always Wins. For CIOs, this means leading the way in building a data-driven organization: one that understands how “the power of knowledge in a network can make a company really agile.”
Data unlimited

At Virgin Atlantic, Boeing’s new 787 aircraft is described by Bulman as a “true Internet of Things object, “with every single component supplying data to the network. Each of these planes can produce upwards of a third of a terabyte of data per flight, each making hundreds if not thousands of flights a year – the quantity of data generated is “truly massive, but the benefit we gain from it is equally massive,” says Bulman, who is now interim CIO at pharmaceutical charitable foundation Wellcome Trust.

Using new statistical techniques, Virgin Atlantic has been able to analyze data from airplanes, maintenance crews and fuel suppliers to make cost savings that have had a significant and immediate impact.  Whole-business benefits can be truly realized when data is shared across the organization, according to Statoil’s Indrebø. “Instead of just having data in one silo, we’re now able to share data across disciplines. And that cross-connection brings new benefits,” she explains.

“The only way we can make things change is if there is a curiosity around doing things differently.”

But the sharing and leveraging of big data comes with its own challenges. At Virgin Atlantic, the surge in available data will have an increasing impact on customers and the company has been careful to strike a balance between “providing information to the business without impacting on the privacy of the consumer,” Bulman says. This data relationship must be entirely transparent, says Bulman — “people understand a value exchange [in which they get benefits for sharing their data], but it has to be explicit.”

Communication with the business users is also key to employing big data successfully and the CIO should lead the way in empowering the rest of the organization. Indrebø’s IT team at Statoil has created an architecture that orchestrates the access and flow of data, ensuring the information is accessible, reliable, and can be used by the business lines to add value.

This approach relies not only on understanding the data needs of business users, but also on developing the business users’ understanding of big data and its potential for their line of work. “The only way we can make things change is if there is a curiosity around doing things differently,” says Indrebø, with data as the catalyst.

Illustration: Studio Tonne
First published
November 2015
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About: Big Thinkers of 2015
Insights from technology chiefs Dr David Bray, Mike Gregoire, Sonja Chirico Indrebø and David Bulman, plus business authors and thought leaders Peter Hinssen and Dr Martin Schulz.

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