A recent Forbes article  predicts the Big Data Market will reach $16.1 Billion in 2014 – growing 6 times faster than the general IT market.  This poses the questions – how many of you are ready for this?  Have you even started leveraging your “big data?”  Reflecting on my own recent conversations with Fortune 1000 C Suite executives, it is apparent most feel they have employees that are “on top of it.” However, when I scratch the surface and question how confident they are with their reported numbers and forecasts, many (possibly most) admitted that they questioned the true validity of the reports they are currently receiving.

Over the past year or more, we have all been inundated with the whole big data blitz with the promise of acquiring, analyzing, and interpreting ridiculously huge data sets –something much of the technology and business world gets extremely excited about. However, how many of you have unlocked the potential of Big Data?  Or even know what it truly means for your business?

As I considered these recent conversations, discussions from analytics and big data conferences, and our own research, I came up with the following observations:

  • Pretty much everyone agrees that big data clearly holds immense business potential.
  • There are several reliable software tools available that can draw from multiple data sources and quickly calculate, analyze, forecast and provide reports.

So why are most companies not farther along on leveraging untapped data?  I believe the answer can be found in your people and culture.

Consider a recent discussion with a large global manufacturer regarding their maturity in leveraging “big data” for internal analytics and forecasting.  By all industry standards, they have some solid practices in place. However, when we peeled back the layers on how their data is being collected, we quickly uncovered disparities in their processes, and a lack of communication between their divisions – and they quickly changed their statement to “we are doing the best with what we have.”

Another team had worked on developing data sets for over a year that calculated and analyzed manufacturing forecasts for every division. Once completed, this team of analysts proudly presented the information to leadership with the expectation of praise and great fanfare. Well, that was over a year ago but to date, the only visitors that have logged into the system have been the analysts. Stories like these have many businesses reconsidering your own big data initiatives.

But small wins are starting to emerge, from groups that have taken a holistic view and done proper planning. Before you spend thousands, or millions, trying to leverage big data with mediocre results at best, there here are some steps that will help you successfully take your organization to the next level:

  1. Leadership Alignment – your C Suite must be on board. At minimum, make sure a clear majority of your leadership team embrace this initiative and are willing to support it.  Although big data is approached as a technology initiative, interpreting and acting on new data successfully requires a cultural shift in how you run your business.  Leadership needs to understand the journey that lies ahead and the potential you are about to unlock.
  2. Data Silos – for all my fellow Sci-Fi colleagues, “The truth is out there.”  As leaders, we want to believe our employees and departments work harmoniously together, however in most enterprises the data generated by a functional area ends up being the de facto “property” of that group. This leads to two problems. First, it’s difficult to get a complete view of the information. Consider all the areas and systems that hold company data: financial, HR, IT, Marketing, ticketing, bug tracking, fulfillment, etc. Getting all the relevant systems to even talk to each other is a huge challenge. Second, there can be significant cultural dissonance between departments of large organizations. Each group controlling a data silo can become very protective of “their” data at the expense of the organization as a whole. . As leaders, we need to intervene in order to break down these barriers to pool data to obtain accurate answers guided by a complete view.
  3. Data Analysts or Scientists – if you employ data analysts or data scientists, consider having them participate in the appropriate leadership meetings. If you don’t employ either, engage with a consultant/firm. These people live and breathe statistics, facts, figures, trends, and technology – and can provide valuable input. Business analysis starts with a line of business request. IT collects data from various databases and transfers it to data scientists/analyst. These teams then are deployed on querying the data, resulting in a deep and valuable understanding about your own company. But in order to be effective and feed you the right information, they need to be able to understand the business strategy and goals you are trying to achieve. Help them help you.
  4. Communication – this is probably the biggest hurdle for successfully leveraging big data.  Communication between your analysts and business users is critical in order to break down the analytical chasm of translating information into action.  Anything that does not make intuitive sense is often regarded with skepticism by business users, which can lead to misunderstandings and missed opportunities. To solve business critical problems, it is essential these two groups be aligned, work closely together, and build trust.

So, to recap, if you are just starting your big data journey or looking to improve your early efforts, I encourage you to work now on getting the following in place to prevent your own epic fail:

Starting with leadership, align your teams and open up data to everyone.

  1. Break down the data silos.
  2. Increase the productivity of data analyst/scientists.
  3. Develop a more collaborative culture that allows business users and data analysts to communicate more effectively.

I guarantee if you follow the above suggestions, you will have much greater success.

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