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January 16, 2013

Positioning your Enterprise for the Big Data Revolution

Posted by Vishnu Bhat (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:07 AM

big data trends infographic

One of the great marketers of all time - Alfred Sloan, the management expert who built General Motors during the early 20th century, structured his stratagem so that consumers felt they were always aspiring up to the next brand from General Motors. At automobile shows, for instance, there was always a tantalizing show of technologies and features on next year's models so that consumers had a hunch that if they didn't rush into showrooms, they'd be missing out on something big. Now, there's a flip side to that feeling, however. It's a sense of not knowing what seems important to know when you think that you might be missing out on a certain sort of advancement. And, I suspect, when it comes to big data and our own organization's adoption of it...especially for some of us who are charged with staying ahead of the big data curve, that feeling can be quite an ache at times!

That's why, I like referring to adopting a big data strategy as a journey. And I like to say to my colleagues that we should be making sure that every company's journey is as smooth as possible.

Recently, at a CXO Summit, I asked the crowd where they are on their big data adoption continuum. About two-thirds responded that they already are working on it or have their mind around it. That's a good start. There's information gathering, plan development, strategy, pilots, plans deployment, articulating business benefits, implementing enterprise program, and, at the very end of it all, you have an enterprise program. Just three years ago, a company could have been shooting in the dark and hoping that its adoption of a big data program was the right one. It was much like that feeling when you know that there's a new technology and you might be missing out on it. But unlike an automobile showroom,you couldn't rush in and drive the new car off the lot. The good news for big data is that the past three years have moved incredibly fast.

There are professionals who can help you get started. According to a CXO, who has charted a rather successful big data strategy for his enterprise. "We made quite a few mistakes, things like getting the data architecture wrong, not coming out with true enterprise data architecture and not understanding what that really meant," he said. "So we unwound things a couple of times and you can now get help in those areas - and it is well worth the investment to get that help, because it will save you months, maybe longer." "It's not about having a perfect architecture before we start; it's more of an incremental process." he clarified.  Like this business leader, many experts don't subscribe to the Big Bang theory when it comes to adopting big data.

I think organizations can go into big data adoption incrementally, but with the knowledge of what the end game looks like. If you don't have a vision of the end, maybe not perfect, but a good vision of what the end game is, you can meander down the road.  And you can definitely save some pain and significant time by getting advice up front. The key here is that nimble organizations are able to make fairly inexpensive mistakes and make them fast, so that they can put those mistakes behind them, learn from them, and move on. One of the advantages of this brave new world is that there's relatively no structure to what journey you choose to take. Nor is there any concept of "schemers" anymore.  Another thing this CXO said that struck me was how the term big data is thrown around a lot. He calls it a vapor word. "A lot of the vendors are talking about big data and saying it's important and get on board and blah, blah, blah," he said. "But I'm a fairly practical person, and I get to run IT operations for a Fortune 500 company and have all the headaches of being [on top of things] 24-7, 365 days a year."

As an end note, what I'd say is that there's value in focusing on what kind of data benefits your organization. And then assemble the right team and come up with an idea of where you want to be a year from now in terms of garnering that data and making sense of it. The journey might not always be without incident, but you'll be sure to avoid the hype and start to get the results you want.

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