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Data requires more than a willingness to throw $$ at the problem, but the full understanding of the company as a whole

Data requires more than a willingness to throw $$ at the problem, but the full understanding of the company as a whole


The business buzzword over the past few years has been “Big Data”. Companies are trying to figure our how they can leverage their collected data and translate it into a competitive advantage. However, according to the Director of MIT’s Sloan School Center for Information Systems Research, Jeanne Ross, this approach is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all for today’s organizations.

Ross, co-author of the article ‘You May Not Need Big Data After All’, cautions businesses against buying into the hype around Big Data. “I think you grow into Big Data,” Ross notes. She explains that there are companies who find the competitive advantage works within their specific industries. As an example, she notes that the oil and gas industry has long employed Big Data for helping them to decide when and where they should place a billion dollar well. The success in one industry, however, doesn’t necessarily translate into success in others. “Many times we know great things about our customers. We just haven’t figured out a way to address them.”

When asked if the fear is misplaced that some companies feel in that they can’t address the Big Data they have, Ross states, “No, not misplaced at all. If you don’t think you can do it, you probably can’t.” For organizations recognizing the potential value of Big Data for the first time, this news could be disheartening.

Watch the interview in its entirety here:

“I don’t think most companies are data driven,” explains Ross. “I think they are metric driven.” This differentiation is important. Today’s companies can respond to certain kinds of data but in order to truly be a data driven organization, they have to recognize which data is important. As an example, Ross cites Foxtel, a pay TV service based out of Australia. “They saw what products were going out and what channels people wanted,” she states. Even with that information they were unable to make strategic decisions. “They went back and started looking at segments and realized what ‘data driven’ would be. They didn’t have the stomach to go back and do that.”

Discussing the emerging role of the CDO, Ross explained that too often there is a propensity to assume that once a CDO is brought into an organization all data issues will be addressed by that role and that little to no further attention is required. With Gartner projecting a 25 percent adoption of a CDO role in companies by next year, Ross claims most companies likely don’t need to create this position.

The key to running a successful organization is identifying and maintaining a single source of truth with respect to data. Many divisions within a company will manipulate data to show that they are running at a profit or contributing significantly to the organization’s bottom line. In the long run, this can be detrimental to the company because different data can show different outcomes.

Once companies adopt a single source of truth in their data, Ross believes it is of utmost importance that it is adopted in a top-down strategy. “We have to let people know mistakes have to be made. The faster you make mistakes, the more you can learn and the faster you can grow.” This strategy is ineffectual, however, if you start in the middle of the organization as people will be less willing to admit mistakes and failure if it hasn’t been adopted into the company’s cultural model.

The swiftly moving current of technology, especially over the previous five years, should be viewed critically by companies hoping to somehow gain a competitive advantage. Leveraging Big Data requires more than just a willingness to throw money at the problem. It requires a full understanding on the part of the company as a whole.

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You can't just sprinkle big data pixie dust on something and make it magically awesome.

Funny thing is that is what most of the Big Data solution vendors are telling their customers and prospects: 

Here's Oracle on the subject "While electricity took more than 100 years to transform the world, big data is revolutionizing the way businesses and government operate virtually overnight."

And IBM: "IBM is the only vendor with this broad and balanced view of big data with the needs of a platform the benefit is pre-integration of its components to reduce your implementation time and cost."

Actian: "Now data scientists and business analysts can transform, cleanse and analyze terabytes of data into actionable insights at record-breaking speed on commodity hardware"

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There are some very deep considerations to get right before the insights of value can be found and afterwards:

1. Helping the organization (business users) understand that there may be value in the data and that data silos need to be combined to really find the game-changers.

2. Finding additional budget / time from the IT organization to get the required data quality, and extract and cleanse data prior to analysis.

3. Overcoming the resistance from the business, business users will hold on to existing paradigms or be threatened by the insights as they may reveal inefficiencies in their own domains.

4. Cyber-Security, Privacy and Risk are all highly underestimated factors - data breaches are serious matters and can undermine any advantages created by the analysis effort. 

5. Once the insights are found, can they be pragmatically implemented by the business? Does this require a strategic change of direction, elimination of existing practices or products? Might there be political obstacles? 

Those solution vendors really do seem like they'll do anything to make the sale. 

You're espousing a much more thoughtful approach. 

If the vendor's metric is license or SaaS revenue, then they'll sell what that can, throw the product over the wall and run.

Very few vendors partner with the company to see the benefits through. We stick around long enough to see some of these problems emerge and we work with the client to overcome them.

Look back at the legendary CRM implementation, does anyone ever measure the actual ROI achieved and if it came close to what was proposed when the initial budget was presented. Because we're experienced (read OLD) we've seen where a load of money was thrown at a problem and there were too many non-technical obstacles that prevent value realization.

Problem is that because this looks like a technology project, the majority of the budget is put towards technology items. Pretty much like any major initiative, there is a significant change management component that needs to be budgeted.

Mo-Data's advice is to go with the minimum technology platform and but work with the business as closely as possible to deliver initial insights. If you have chosen your technology stack wisely, it will expand in functionality and capacity as the realm of data mining that it undertakes. 

That's good advice, Mo Data. I hope more clients listen. 

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