Empires Are Using Data To Strike Back

As the battle between the old guard and the upstarts takes place and every company becomes a data company, the ability for established industries to deal with the myriad of ways in which their data can be accessed, secured and harnessed to drive the next wave of innovation will be increasingly key to their success.

This article originally appeared on as part of Delphix CMO Monika Saha's ongoing column. See the original post here.

Last month, IBM hosted its second annual Think Conference, and one of the recurring themes throughout the event was the impact of new and emerging technologies on digital transformation and the future of business. “This era gives the incumbents a chance to strike back,” IBM CEO Ginni Rometty told reporters at the event.

It’s no secret that some of the largest and most classic brands have been upended by a new wave of disruptors. At the same time, technologies such as the cloud and artificial intelligence are enabling legacy businesses to leverage their data to better compete with upstarts that have far less experience and scale.

Established brands have a few inherent advantages:

  • These brands have deep market knowledge and understanding of how their buyers have evolved (in some cases, they’ve witnessed close to a century of customer evolution).
  • They’ve survived a number of existential market disruptions, proving themselves to be more resilient to change.
  • They have gained global brand recognition and customer loyalty.
  • Last but certainly not least, they have a lot of data -- data that has been collected over many years and that resides in multiple formats, locations and applications that often mirror the technological advances that various industries have either embraced or experimented with over the years.

As the battle between the old guard and the upstarts takes place and every company becomes a data company, I believe that the ability for established industries to deal with the myriad of ways in which their data can be accessed, secured and harnessed to drive the next wave of innovation will be increasingly key to their success. The ability to manage large volumes of heterogeneous data embedded in multiple systems developed and/or acquired over a lengthy corporate lifetime is an area where the upstarts don’t have as much “baggage” as the entrenched leaders do.

The Battle Of Behemoths: Old Versus New

As a CMO of a DataOps company, I’ve seen firsthand that nowhere has this battle between the new and the old taken more shape than in the retail sector. Amazon has changed the face of retail by using data to transform the way consumers shop. Despite the fact that Amazon has aggressively expanded its business, Walmart is still the biggest retailer in the world. Walmart has managed to figure out how to meet its customers in new ways and maintain relevance using data in today’s fast-changing world.

Companies that survive throughout the ages are often the ones that develop the agility and speed to disrupt. I believe we will see this play out more distinctly as the Fourth Industrial Revolution evolves. In today’s world, data seems to be the currency of disruption, and Walmart is a great example of what happens when an empire strikes back.

But retail is not alone. This isn’t just unique to one industry. Think about the transformation taking place in another industry to which we can all relate: banking. I bank with Bank of America, previously known as “Bank of Italy” when it was started in a quaint San Francisco neighborhood in 1904. This bank has not only weathered multiple economic ups and downs, but it has also withstood multiple eras of technological innovation, from the punch card era to the mainframe era to the client server era and now the hybrid cloud era.

The advent of each new era brings new entrants to the market that are able to harness new technology to compete with incumbents, without being bogged down by the legacy of the previous era. By definition, startups are innovators. For younger companies that are looking to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and mature into market leaders, they will need to realize the importance of capturing more data, securing that data and quickly translating it into smart decisions that have business impact. Their innate ability to be nimble, agile and flexible can help to accelerate the pace of change and upend legacy organizations that are more vulnerable to disruption.

But this new era also equally creates an opportunity for incumbents to leverage their data, their scale and their experience to engage and serve their customers in new ways. No company is immune to the explosion of data in terms of size and complexity, nor wide-sweeping data privacy regulations. And I believe startups will face similarly daunting data-related challenges that will threaten their ability to innovate and grow at the pace needed to compete and win.

While startups that adopt a modern data strategy will likely find the speed they need to battle the empires, empires are striking back as they quickly make the shift to digital. We are seeing signals of incumbents finding ways of becoming more digitally savvy in short order. These are companies that are able to securely leverage data to fuel innovation, regardless of what system the data resides in and what internal silos of data may have developed over the decades. As multiple battles rage on across multiple industries, one thing is for sure: The galaxy will never be the same.


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