Symposium stresses data management as key to smarter leadership

One of the most popular conferences for chief information officers each year is the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, held each May in Cambridge, MA. This year’s event will be all about data management, analytics, AI and disruptive technologies.

Information Management spoke with Lindsey Anderson, Chair of the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, about what attendees can expect to learn at this year’s symposium.

Information Management: This May, the MIT Sloan School will again host its annual CIO Symposium. What is the main theme of this year’s event and what can attendees expect to learn?

Lindsey Anderson: This year’s theme is “Leading the Smarter Enterprise.” The smarter enterprise leverages data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and other insightful technologies to create organizations that are deeply engaged with customers and other stakeholders.

Smarter enterprises are culturally transformed to incorporate data-driven insights into every decision. They work collaboratively and promote talent growth, and are more consumer/customer oriented and quicker at getting to market.

This year’s attendees will learn the following, among other things:

  • Data strategies that pay off
  • How big companies are running smarter
  • Managing organizational explosions during digital transformation
  • How to co-evolve with your customers and external partners
  • Future-proofing the workforce for digital
  • How to architect your business for sustained success
  • The real impact of machine learning and robotics on the workforce
  • Working with your boards

IM: Are there specific emerging technologies or disruptive technologies that are most capturing the attention of CIOs right now, and if so, why so?

Anderson: This year’s symposium is focused on a convergence of technologies we call insightful technologies. These technologies include big data, cloud, AI, machine learning, and predictive analytics, among others. Each has been percolating over the last several years until this year where they have reached a level of maturity where they can converge.

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The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Individually these technologies cannot be as disruptive as they will be as they converge into insightful technologies, enabling enterprises to run smarter.

I'm not sure that insightful technologies have captured the attention of CIOs yet. The purpose of this year's symposium is to make sure they do.

IM: What are the issues related to data management and data governance that are most demanding the attention of CIOs today?

Anderson: Keep the end in mind: data is the backbone of the smarter enterprise and always will be. Yet data is the weakest link. It is fragile and boring; it easily suffers from benign neglect by executive leadership. But without broad and reliable data, the smart enterprise falls apart. The old adage, garbage in/garbage out, is just as true today as it was 50 years ago.

Without constant vigilance the quality and usefulness of data will decline. Data management and governance are tools the CIO uses to stem the decline, but the CIOs main focus should be on the inherent entropy of data. That focus will best guide him or her in the best use of data management and governance.

IM: While “big data” was one of the IT buzzwords of two years ago, we don’t hear or see the term as much in 2019. What happened to big data, from the perspective of CIOs today?

Anderson: Big data is no longer a buzzword because it works. CIOs know how to implement big data, but big data isn’t set in stone. CIOs are still refining it and enhancing their implementations as they build their smarter enterprises. And they will continue to do so for some time. So while there may not be a lot of talk around big data, there will continue to be a lot of work.

IM: Issues related to data security and data privacy have grabbed the attention of corporate execs and boards. What do CIOs view as the top data security issues and threats in 2019, and beyond?

Anderson: CIOs need to change their perspective on security. Cybercrime is not just for hackers anymore; it’s big business.

Cybersecurity research at MIT Sloan (IC)3 found that the dark web ecosystem is using the concepts of the value chain and “as-a-service” to make all the components of a cyber-attack available for purchase on the dark web. Launching a successful attack only requires clever business person cobbling together the necessary components, with dark web support services to help every step along the way.

Cybercrime “as-a-service” means CIOs should anticipate more frequent attacks, most of which will probably fail because to existing defenses, but the cyber-entrepreneur will continuously change tactics. There’s money to be made.

Cybercrime isn’t just big business, it’s smarter business. It too has access to insightful technologies and will be using them aggressively. It’s time for CIOs to fight fire with fire. CIOs need to employ insightful technologies to strengthen their defenses.

IM: What lessons can CIOs hope to learn at the symposium this year that will help them make the most of the data assets in their organizations?

Anderson: The most important lesson for CIOs is to develop a data strategy. The most compelling data strategies articulate exactly how data will generate economic value—specifically and uniquely—for an organization. They spell out the organization’s data monetization approach, along with associated risks, costs and benefits – and describe the capabilities and activities required for execution.

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