Almost two years since The Economist went to press - leading with the front cover tagline of ‘The world’s most valuable resource’ - the debate has yet to settle on the iconic magazine’s bold claims.
In sketching six oil rigs - housing logos of Google, Facebook, Uber, Amazon, Microsoft and Tesla - a statement was made in which data was heralded as the new oil.
Such a statement, of course, has been wildly debated and dismissed with Forbes, World Economic Forum and BBC publicly airing scepticism.
But as the finer details are contested, perhaps the crux of the matter lies in the belief that in some shape or form, data is dominating the business world.
“Customers want to leverage data is near real-time, that is the holy grail,” observed Timothy Mannah, partner at Servian. “Real-time reporting and insights is crucial in a market still carrying out overnight batch-based work, which is not going to suffice in a world now transacting online.”
While the May 2017 edition of The Economist was centred around the establishment of new anti-trust rules to combat a growing data economy, the underlying point that knowledge is power rings true.
In the enterprise, information has always been in abundance and statistics have always proved to be infinite. The knowledge and the power comes from maximising such data through deep analysis, providing actionable insights in response.
Collecting data for data’s sake is not intelligence, rather a distraction.
“The objective is centred around setting customers up to achieve decision making in real-time, and in parts of a business, that is achievable,” Mannah explained.
“Any digitally native data is in the cloud to begin with, so moving this data from point A to point B - when both of those points are in the cloud - offers the capability for customers to make decisions quickly.”
In spearheading Servian’s digital practice - tasked with helping customers capitalise on the promise of digital, cloud, artificial intelligence and machine learning - Mannah is attempting to manoeuvre change in a tier-1 market traditionally bound by size and scale.
“In order to move the dial at a bank for example, given the size of the customer base, you need to achieve wins at scale,” explained Mannah, who joined the Sydney-based consultancy firm in 2013.
“If you place yourself within a large tier-1 Titanic-sized enterprise, there’s value in observing the market in terms of assessing the smaller industry players that can be agile and nimble.
“Banks can watch how blockchain plays out for example, and when they are ready to commit, they can spend big and pick what they want to go after.”
Appetite for change
Founded in 2008, Servian is a data and analytics specialist targeting the enterprise, with key customers across financial services, insurance and telecommunications.
In housing more than 320 consultants, the business offers advice and guidance around five core technology sets, spanning data and analytics; artificial intelligence; digital; customer engagement and cloud and technology.
Such capabilities are backed up by alliances with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, Microsoft and IBM, alongside Domo, Tableau, Talend and Cloudera among others.
“Our next sector of focus is in government,” Mannah added. “I’m flawed by the willingness and desire to transform and move quickly in government.
“I find it phenomenal that some of the policies are now moving away from multi-million-dollar projects to short, sharper engagement in which risk is being removed from the profile of every project.
“There’s courage in place to try new things, knowing that the risk appetite is lower which provides opportunity to trial and do more. Government works with people that are specialists in what they do, and our core focus area is around data and analytics.”
While the appetite for innovation is increasing, Mannah acknowledged that a shift to the business is underway across all sectors, as new buyers emerge from within the enterprise.
“Traditionally, IT absolutely held the keys to the kingdom in terms of the technology growth roadmap but now the business wants to move faster than what IT can move,” he said. “Over the years, this dynamic has built up a level of frustration in the boardroom, and the question now is, who’s calling the shots?
“The CMO has the right to call the shots, especially in that data space. But likewise, the CIO still has a very big role to play, and the brains trust in the form of the architects answering up the chain also still have a very big role to play.
“Anyone who thinks they are going to bullishly move the enterprise towards a technology outcome without taking technology and the business along together, is gravely underestimating the longevity of a plan.
“The CIO is always there, and rightfully so, but appetite for change is not coming out of IT, more so business, in the form of sales and marketing.”
On paper, transformation is the order of the day for customers, motivated by a desire to compete in a crowded market.
“About nine per cent of the workloads that could go to the cloud are in the cloud in Australia, which leaves 91 per cent of growth space,” Mannah observed. “That is a very telling and honest look at where Australia is at.
“Growth in Australia is working within the tier-1 space to help enterprise customers migrate work to the cloud, that’s nowhere near mature and we believe a large opportunity exists.
“This is especially the case within the data and analytics market, in which traditionally, most of the behemoths are tied to enterprise systems and services that are still very much on-premises.”
Consequently, Mannah outlined “huge opportunity” to engage in cloud conversations specific to data and analytics, to iron out any market misconceptions.
“When the whole cloud boom began, many just looked at it from a cost saving perspective but I think anyone that continues to look at it from a cost-saving standpoint alone, is going to leave a large percentage of the win on the table,” Mannah added.
“You will save money if you commit to cloud but you can’t half commit, you have to commit to realise the savings. The concept of transformation requires a catalyst for change and that trigger point is the migration to the cloud.”
Leading the charge to the cloud is AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, three environments that from an Australian perspective, tick crucial customer checklists in terms of data sovereignty and security.
“All of the market leaders represent a viable option for customers,” Mannah said. “We weren’t having that conversation when we first started talking about cloud, but now we can and customers are picking and choosing capabilities.”
Adhering to a “multi-cloud” strategy, Servian continues to maintain a vendor agnostic heritage, advising on best-fit technologies for specific end-user requirements.
“Each vendor has a claim to fame and they are all different in many ways,” Mannah stated. “One customer might prefer AI and machine learning expertise, or strong back-up and disaster recovery options, our role is to assess the value-add of each vendor and recommend accordingly.
“It’s refreshing to come across a client base that wants to handpick technologies. Customers are working with vendors based on what they do best, which is a huge shift in thinking.”
Attacking the market
With 2019 now underway, Mannah said Servian - which has presence in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, Hobart, Auckland and Bengaluru - is aggressively chasing “over-arching” growth.
The business has doubled in size during the past three years, triggering a chain reaction in which overseas expansion is emerging as a viable progression strategy.
“Australia’s market is finite in two ways,” Mannah explained. First, you’re trying to grow in a market suffering a skills shortage. We’re a consultancy which means we provide excellence in terms of the talent we’re looking to put forward.
“Secondly, is Australia a big data market? Or is it more, big data ish? I would argue ish. We have a population of around 25 million and compared to other markets across the world, we have limitations imposed on us geographically.
“Therefore, this year is about finding new ways to grow into other regions.”
At this stage, options are still open as to where that new market will be, with the US, UK, New Zealand and Asia all under consideration.
“We’re working through the order in which we want to tackle that growth,” Mannah clarified. “The plan is to maintain the same hiring model and the same way we do business. We don’t want to change that and then we want to align to the markets which respond to how we do business.
“Timing is everything and ensuring that it’s aligned to our clients timing so that we can deliver the exact same value that we provide in Australia. We want to double again over a period of time so it’s inevitable that we’re going to have to look abroad.”
When the opportunity arises, and Servian navigates international waters, maintaining the company’s core DNA will be crucial, as the need for specialist capabilities heightens.
“First and foremost, we’re a data analytics consultancy, that’s what we are best known for and we will maintain that narrative,” Mannah said. “That is who we are, what we do and we’re very proud of the way in which we do it.
“We’re known for the way in which we do it and because of that, it doesn’t matter which vendor we work with - the quality of our work and the people we have is what’s important.
“Why would we change that? If you look at the rest of the work that we do, it’s all complementary to our data and analytics capabilities, such as cloud marketing, AI or data-driven digital, customer driven engagement. Everything links back to data analytics which is the core.”