How to unlock data silos and unleash innovation

Digital transformation has come to the forefront during the pandemic. It’s been rightly lauded as the key to helping global organisations respond during a time of crisis. New digital capabilities have enabled organisations to reach out to customers, rapidly pivot their operations to remote working, and adapt to a radically different commercial environment. For consumers, it’s changed everything from how we shop, work, and study, to the way we consult with healthcare professionals. Yet more accurately, digital transformation should be called “data transformation”. After all, it’s the data that ultimately helps organisations solve their biggest challenges and drive closer customer relationships through digital touchpoints and online channels.

The challenge for organisations is that this data is usually locked up in silos across the enterprise, slowing down the rate of innovation and creating a hurdle to transformation. To unlock, analyse and act on their data, organisations require a new approach to connectivity based around reusable APIs.

The power of data

There’s no doubt that data sits at the heart of digital transformation. Three of the most emblematic digital projects during the pandemic—migrating apps to the cloud, supporting remote working, and automating business processes—are all fundamentally data-centric.

Data most crucially helps organisations better understand and serve customers with personalised experiences. Given that PWC research has found that a third of consumers will leave a brand they love after just a single bad experience, this couldn’t be more important. Complete and accurate data also lies at the heart of supporting key business priorities through improved forecasting, support for IT self-service, and the development of more relevant and responsive applications.

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Trapped in silos

Enterprise systems collect all this invaluable data from across the organisation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Whether because of cultural and structural reasons, or simply because these technology systems are poorly integrated, that data usually ends up trapped in silos. In MuleSoft’s 2021 Connectivity Benchmark Report, silos were branded a key challenge by 90% of organisations. This finding was exactly the same as the year before, highlighting the lack of progress in this area.

Siloed data can lead to an inability to grow and scale processes, and inconsistent information being used to drive decisions and power personalised customer experiences. It also means connected customer experiences remain a pipe dream for many enterprises. It’s perhaps unsurprising that less than a fifth (18%) of organisations are integrating end-user experiences across all channels, and half claim it’s difficult for them to do so.

Bridging the gaps

Many organisations rely on custom code and point-to-point integrations to create the connected experiences that their customers are increasingly demanding. However, these integrations are complex and time-consuming to build and manage, undermining business agility. One company that has experienced this first-hand is pharmaceutical and healthcare technology company McKesson. The firm wanted to better understand its data so it could be more responsive to its customers—both in terms of the products and services it offers and the way it handles incidents.

Like many organisations, the challenge for McKesson was that the data sets it dealt with were heterogeneous and inconsistent across business lines. Siloed systems, historic acquisitions, and different market dynamics compounded these issues. Its first attempt to gain a company-wide view of its data was based around point-to-point integrations focused on specific business lines. However, this piecemeal approach led to long lead times for new digital transformation projects.

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Finding a new approach

By taking an API-led approach to integration, organisations can unlock their enterprise data wherever it resides—in legacy or digital systems. This means that systems and applications are effectively able to speak in a language they all understand, sharing data in real time to drive improved business insights and create enhanced experiences. McKesson was able to switch to this API-led approach to build a strategic roadmap for interconnectivity — seamlessly integrating systems and aggregating transactions and customer information from across the business. This has provided greater visibility and oversight of the customer experience.

Most importantly, APIs can be reused, enabling organisations like McKesson to transform into a composable enterprise, so they can move faster with each integration. With this more composable approach, business users can also self-serve, taking pressure off IT teams and reducing development bottlenecks. The end result is to drive down costs and accelerate time to market. Not only can this help organisations to deliver on their current business goals, but it can also enable them to build a more resilient foundation for future success. Ultimately, it provides the agility needed to continually adapt to the changing needs of the business, and offer customers more personalised and meaningful experiences as the world moves on from the pandemic.

Written by Ian Fairclough, vice-president of EMEA customer success at MuleSoft

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