Bridging the Big Data Divide between Business and IT

I spend my time working with customers trying to figure out where and how to start their big data journey. Phase one of the discussion is trying to explain what big data is and why it’s important. It’s an educational process. Phase two of the journey to big data is the experimental stage. I look at a sample of the customer’s data and start playing with it to look for potential value. Phase three is when companies try to figure out from a business perspective where they should begin. They want to know what the right catalyst is for transforming their data infrastructure and how to take advantage of their different data sources. This is the hardest part of the journey to overcome because it requires the business and IT side of the house to talk to each other and establish a shared sense of purpose. You have to drive consensus and collaboration between the business and IT.

If you tackle big data as a business-only initiative without the technology there, you’re going to fail. If you tackle it as a technology initiative without the support of the business, you’re going to fail. There is often a really difficult situation where the business and the IT folks have to talk the same language and they don’t like doing it. It’s almost as if there is a civil war going on between them.

If the business gets caught up in the “who controls the big data initiative” battles with IT, they are not going to get what they need to get out of the big data initiative. In other words, if the business doesn’t sponsor it, if they don’t own it and they use IT solely as an after-the-fact thought, big data will not be successful for them. It must be a joint, collaborative effort.

For example, if a business unit decides to not get IT involved and builds their own little analytics sandbox, they will never be able to operationalize it back into the company’s CRM system, call center system and management dashboard. This is a huge problem!

One thing I hear a lot in many of my discussions is that there is potential to transform the business side from business monitoring to business optimization, but you need to have senior-level commitment to be successful. From a business perspective, big data introduces a vocabulary of words like “optimize,” “predict,” “forecast,” and “score,” which makes business people really excited.

What is important to remember when talking about how to realize the big data opportunity is that it has less to do with technology and less to do with data. It has more to do with who at the senior level can see and embrace this change, has the power to rewire the value creation processes and can champion this transformation from the top.

For whatever reason, many senior executives are threatened by data and that is why so many companies are still in the phase one educational stage of the big data conversation. It’s very hard for them to let go of decisions they have traditionally made with their gut and now have to rely on the numbers. The companies who succeed and thrive are going to be the ones who have leaders who are willing to do what it takes to really be data-driven, and that includes partnering with IT.

About the Author: Bill Schmarzo

Bill Schmarzo, author of “Big Data: Understanding How Data Powers Big Business” and “Big Data MBA: Driving Business Strategies with Data Science”, is responsible for setting strategy and defining the Big Data service offerings for Dell EMC’s Big Data Practice. As a CTO within Dell EMC’s 2,000+ person consulting organization, he works with organizations to identify where and how to start their big data journeys. He’s written white papers, is an avid blogger and is a frequent speaker on the use of Big Data and data science to power an organization’s key business initiatives. He is a University of San Francisco School of Management (SOM) Executive Fellow where he teaches the “Big Data MBA” course. Bill also just completed a research paper on “Determining The Economic Value of Data”. Onalytica recently ranked Bill as #4 Big Data Influencer worldwide. Bill has over three decades of experience in data warehousing, BI and analytics. Bill authored the Vision Workshop methodology that links an organization’s strategic business initiatives with their supporting data and analytic requirements. Bill serves on the City of San Jose’s Technology Innovation Board, and on the faculties of The Data Warehouse Institute and Strata. Previously, Bill was vice president of Analytics at Yahoo where he was responsible for the development of Yahoo’s Advertiser and Website analytics products, including the delivery of “actionable insights” through a holistic user experience. Before that, Bill oversaw the Analytic Applications business unit at Business Objects, including the development, marketing and sales of their industry-defining analytic applications. Bill holds a Masters Business Administration from University of Iowa and a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics, Computer Science and Business Administration from Coe College.