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China Report: Roving Analyst Experience In China

by Andrew White  |  September 15, 2016  |  Comments Off on China Report: Roving Analyst Experience In China

I spent 3 days in Singapore week before last and then all last week in China.  Here is a little “report” I compiled as I traveled around the place.  Firstly though an observation from Singapore.  18 months ago there were very few Chief Data Officers.  Now there are more, many in public sector but also a few in private too.  The role is becoming popular.

China Does Three Rings of Information Governance, Gartner-style.

I spent two days in Beijing, 2 in Shanghai, and 1 in Guangzhou.  I met numerous companies in many different industries spanning energy, pharmaceutical, household goods, airline, grocery and automotive, across retail, distribution and manufacturing.  Though we also have a notable public sector base I focused mainly on the private sector for this trip.

Other than boring you with a tantalizing history of my dining habits, I thought I would share with you a number of observations related to IT, and specifically data and analytics strategy, information governance, big data and MDM.  I was visiting organizer a to talk about three topics.

Master Data Management (MDM): There’s a lot if it about

Everywhere I went there was talk of MDM.  This is not surprising as I was looking for MDM.  But irrespective of this every firm I met actually told me that they had an MDM program.  This was somewhat pleasing not least because I was around when MDM got seriously started and to see it alive and well in China was pretty cool.  Of course I knew this since I have taken inquiries over the years from Chinese firms.  Nonetheless this was rewarding.

MDM: One firms’ meat is another firms poison

The challenge however is that what was called MDM across the firms I met was all very different.  It seems that almost all firms defined MDM differently.  Some suggested that the scope was equivalent to managing all ERP data; some correctly scoped it as the smaller amount of data shared across critical business processes; yet others suggested that it was a simple database of common data and therefore an IT project.  This was both a sad and exciting opportunity.  It is sad in that this lack of awareness comes about due to both lack of education and the willingness of vendors to confuse their clients.  This is exciting in that the opportunity for improvement is huge.

As a consequence the three rings of information governance, what we use to help explain pace layered information strategy, was the most popular topic and slide of the entire week.  Every client interaction asked to talk more about how to leverage it.

Data and analytics strategy and business led information governance: Missing in Action

Virtually all firms I met suggested that their information governance efforts were IT led, not business led.  But IT did realize that the business should be leading information governance.

Additionally and more worrying was the lack of any distinct data, analytics, or data and analytics strategy.  Since I have spoken with Chinese clients I know that many do have such strategies so I assume my sample of firms I visited is more of an anomaly, or more broad based with prospects and clients.

There were many clients all concerned at the ability they lacked in trying to get business users to partake in governing data in their data warehouses.  Of course, this meant we explored the role of information stewardship and how business users just don’t know what a data warehouse is.  Every client even launched at the right points of my jokes!  Most clients recognized the need and better practice of establishing information governance up front in operational systems and then focusing on agile information governance for more mode-2 type delivery of analytical solutions built on warehouses.

The business value of data: What did you say?

Universally every firm expressed a need and inability to express to business leaders the business value of data.  The ‘pyramid principle’ we employ was very popular in presentations I shared.

Digital is Big: And more than the chief digital officer can handle

I have been (un)lucky: three times in the last three years I have traveled to New York, USA, Brisbane, Australia, and Beijing, China, at the exact same time that locally a G7 or G20 meeting takes place.  As such I have been able to focus on the news associated with such events.  At the opening keynote of the G20 meeting in Hangzhou, Chinese President Xi Jinping pressed for guidelines for countries to support a new digital economy.  The full text is here:

Here was one quote:  “This year, we have Group of Twenty on blueprint innovative growth consensus, a unanimous decision by innovation, new ways of structural reforms, the new industrial revolution, the digital economy, the world economy to open up new roads to explore new boundaries.”

But in talking with several consumer focused firms, there are a few chief or digital officers but they are focused on customer facing multi-channel strategies only.  As such the results will not succeed since an effective digital strategy needs to expansive and extend across the entire firm, not just focusing on customers.

If digital is not focused too on execution, fulfillment and the ecosystem, then no visionary digital strategy will win with customers alone.  So it is quite likely that the current batch of chief digital officers will eventually evolve into full chief data officers.

No Room – Yet – For Chief Data Officer (CDO)

I discussed the role of CDO with every Chinese client I met.  I was informed that not one client had a CDO (some had chief digital officer, which I explained (to their satisfaction) was a narrow-minded-focused chief data officer wanna-be) but that the premise, the idea, was liked.  It just seems a little new at this time.  Some CIO’s did report “doing this work” and the idea that the CDO is a role placated them nicely.

Let’s Centralize Everything- Just alike the Vendor Told us

I was a little taken aback and saddened to find a number of organizations that and deployed what many would recognize as a data maintenance/management office, or DMO.  DMOs are, or were (thankfully) all the rage with firms implementing ERP.  These shared service organizations suited ERP vendors and their systems because such systems were predicated on the idea of centralization.  However the model rarely worked ‘as sold’ for any reasonable length of time.

The real world is distributed and as we now need to connect (not collect) to more and more data, certain roles and work need to be distributed and only some kinds of role or work should be centralized.  In a nutshell, policy setting (the work of information governance) and policy enforcement (the work of stewardship) have to remain part of line-function or business.

Sometimes policy setting is centralized with distributed policy enforcement.  In a few exceptions policy setting is distributed.  Data maintenance or the execution of the data tasks can be centralized for efficiency reasons, or even outsourced.  Being clear about three three roles was popular with my client interactions.

The firms I met were struggling with centralized DMOs as much as many western firms I have met over the years.  They are equally struggling with centralized big data and analytics teams.

And this brings me to the greatest IT opportunity for China as I look into the clouds eating my breakfast in the 54th floor of the Grand Hyatt, Shanghai, city population of 14 millions.

Chinese firms have a great opportunity. They seek growth and they have a rich vein of economic opportunity to exploit.  They have a ready market around them and, like the US in the early and mid-20th century, can growth their economy without  being overly reliant on global trade.  As such Chinese firms are rushing to spend on IT.

I met many business people who are more keen to rush to the conclusion and seek the template, the cookbook, the solution.  There is much less appetite for dialog around the reasoning or justification.  This is a boon to vendors and a bane for Gartner advice.

At the same time, these firms don’t have to make the same mistakes that many older, western firms have made with IT.  As such many Chinese firms could leap frog and catch up, even surpass, their western erstwhile competitors.  But now the catch.

What are the mistakes to avoid?  How do we define ‘mistake’?  Is a data management office (DMO) a mistake?   No, it is not as much a mistake as on oversimplification of a solution to a complex, misunderstood problem.

Now for some non-IT observations.

Polite Chaos: Traveling in China.

In Mumbai I noted how pedestrians, push-bikes, mopeds and motor vehicles all seemed to collide (but never quite did) and criss-cross each other’s path as they pulse through streets and intersections.  In India it seems as if neither party is all that interested in the other and it’s a mad dash to find the way through the mayhem.  There is much hand signaling and voice communication.

China is different.

I didn’t spot too many pedestrian light signals being utilized (though I did see some) but as with India, people, bikes, mopeds (rear-view Mirrors optional) and cars are forever in a strange cross-walk embrace.  The difference for me though is that China was like polite chaos.  Each person or bike or vehicle was respectful of each other.

Sometimes I would watch a pedestrian, originally trying to cross a 4-way interchange by crossing one side then then next, give up due to traffic flow and seemingly walk across the middle of the entire intersection!  Cars slowed down, sometimes one or other would yield, but it was all so polite.

A few times I was in a taxi turning left across traffic and I watched as an oncoming car sped toward us, slamming in the brakes and stopping inches from our vehicle.  Drivers would look at each other with what seemed like a straight face.  If I did this in many cities in the US I would encourage a hail of abuse and possibly something much worse.

I was informed that some age groups tend to wait for pedestrian signals and others, perhaps the younger, tend not too.  But either way it was almost graceful and eminently safe.  In the US in many major cities this simply would not happen.  In Italy one would be in the middle of a shouting match in minutes, if one was still standing.

Lastly there is ample use of the horn.  But I never once saw a driver acknowledge the fact that they were being communicated with.  It seems the horn is being used correctly to simply alert others to ones imminent presence. In many places in North America and  Europe, a smack of the horn gets an automatic rebuke and a lot of hand signals and verbal abuse at the indignation of it all.  I never once saw a verbal or hand signal in response.  It was all very reasonable.

It made me think of Italian driving without passion.   Probably just as safe but less fun to watch.

Of interest:

  • I had to really look hard for a full blooded SUV.  I saw a very small number of cross over SUVs and range Rovers but no Expeditions or Hummers.
  • Despite crisscrossing Beijing and Shanghai I did not spot one tramp or bag-lady.  It turns out that there are not as many ‘poor people’ that I am used to seeing.  It seems that somewhere between ‘not being allowed on the street’ and ‘social safety net’ and ‘family responsibility’ a solution of some kind has been found.  That said, Shanghai looked to me like the busiest place on the planet.  If you want to be reminded what 8 per cent growth looks like, go to China.  Construction, dust, road works, unreal traffic, but everyone working hard.
  • I spotted hundreds, even almost everyone with a smart phone.  This market is large, here and now, and online.
  • The density of people walking, mothers-and-child-on-back-of-moped, push bikes and mopeds, cars, BMW/Mercs to everything else, is amazing.  Lots, and all moving at once.

Business Narrative and Observations

There is a vibrant, healthy, effervescent confidence in the business people I met in China.  There is a frank and open willingness to learn from others, including the west.  And there is an open, healthy, hard work ethic.  But more importantly there is huge, simply huge opportunity bursting at the seams in China.

I have read widely concerning the economic challenges facing China, mainly focused n the slow, gradual but necessary transition from a manufacturing based economy to a consumer and services based economy.  To make this more complex there are efforts to embed the yuan into the IMF’s SDR and eventfully reserve currency status.  There are also challenges concerning government debt and ownership compared to private debt and ownership.

Average labor rates in China are increasing at a clip – see  Infrastructure development is expanding inland and across the country from economic centers of activity.  Thus industrialization and growth is pulsing across the country in different waves, as if large pebbles being dropped into a pool.  And the rocks are getting larger.  The opportunities are vast.  And Chinese political goals seek to encourage commercial success.  And it’s clear the enthusiasm I was exposed to in just a few interactions is going to drive success.

And talking of enthusiasm and success, how can I not mention Jack Ma and Alibaba’s platform strategy.  Listening to Jack Ma in the media and understanding a fraction of the size of China’s market, and as-yet-to-be-served addressable indigenous market, one has to be in awe and even a little scared.

Does Amazon and Google really understand or grasp the threat?  Can Alibaba create a behemoth behind an e-commerce curtain while Amazon and Google get star-struck with moving lights and clouds?  Jack Ma claims that Alibaba is the largest logistics firm on the planet, and it might well be (perhaps in context to a single country).  Alibaba, with the Chinese market behind it, can out-Wal-Martize many markets, can even fail and relearn success, at a rate that might embarrass western firms.  And better yet, hidden in the vastness if China, western firms won’t even know when, where and if Alibaba trips up.  The use of the market is so vast a mishap can easily be surpassed with success.




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Category: chief-data-officer  chief-data-officer-cdo  china  data-and-analytics  information-management  information-organization  information-stewardship  information-strategy  information-value  master-data-management  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio

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