The Road to Big Data

Big Data is big buzz.  We hear questions all the time from our existing and prospective clients that follow along the lines of:

  • What do you consider Big Data?
  • I don’t think we have Big Data, do you?
  • What could we do with our data?
  • Is the ROI on data analytics worth it?
  • Can we quantify the costs and financial returns?

In essence:  What is the business value of our information and is it worth tapping?

An organization’s information asset does not suddenly become valuable.  For the most part, the size or age of data does not achieve a threshold where it immediately gains an order of magnitude in importance.  One can argue that mergers and acquisitions are exceptions.

Value of the information asset is achieved incrementally in stages as an organization’s information maturity or Data IQ broadens.  What’s your Data IQ?  Here are the milestones where information maturity, and incremental value, are realized and can be assessed.

  • Operational – This level of information value is represented in reports and extractions of single line of business systems. Most commonly, this is observed in the canned reports packaged with a specific business application.
  • Integrated – Using common identifiers to connect and cross correlate information across applications and databases. At this level, the objective is still largely operational efficiency and transaction summary oriented.
  • Performance – Signifying the step to integrated historical trending analytics. Looking at our past for the future.
  • Comparative – Adding external data related to the performance of competitors or industry performance. The focus at this stage continues to be the analysis in arrears with the critical distinction that analysis now looks beyond ourselves and turns to relative performance.
  • Predictive – Finally, the addition of external data including: demographics, related markets, materials, resources, labor, geography and climate. We now build and tweak our associative forward looking models.

Beyond the Performance level above, the value of information becomes strategic.  Investments in strategic initiatives require ownership and action of chief executive leadership.  We formulate business strategy and board level objectives that explain, in business speak, the quantified rewards and risks of leveraging information to steer business direction.

It is no surprise that the next question is: What will it cost, and how long will it take?  That’s a fair question that is addressed using a high level roadmap of the big picture.  It is important to convey the understanding that each milestone is dependent upon the last.  It is critical that we not look too far ahead in budget and timeline.  The organization, most likely, has no estimating metrics for Big Data projects.  So we move ahead in smaller steps.  Starting with only a “Comparative” initiative, the goals are subdivided into phases of independent value delivery.

As data scientists and information technology professionals we prepare for the road ahead. Big Data is not linked to supporting a business plan in the sense that many IT initiatives do.  Some of the most effective Big Data initiatives can result in discovery that tends to disrupt and redirect business strategy.

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