I just had dinner with an IT exec from a financial institution, and heard a common lament: “This Big Data thing is driving me crazy. Everyone has an opinion about what it means, and what needs to be done. It’s hard to put together a strategy for something so ill-defined.” Frankly, I was surprised to hear that. He never needed a problem to be defined in order to come up with a strategy before.
But so it goes for execs responding to pressure about how they will embrace and extend the “next big thing.” Big Data holds promise, but the burned-in use cases are a ways off, and today it’s about 1) grasping the conditions that begat the Big Data phenomenon, 2) embracing the dreams of innovation made possible by those conditions, and 3) getting a handle on the existing technologies that can be leveraged to produce Big Data value, and where those are going or need to go to accelerate value creation.
As far as “ the conditions” go, we can all agree that the cliché of the “data tsunami” washing over us for the past 15 years can reasonably be considered addressable today. Granted, it takes fresh new tech to do so (if I get a dog I’ll name it Hadoop), but the amount of data being accumulated is more a source of excitement than fear for innovative IT organizations. It is possible to “ dream” of leveraging this data in innovative ways. But how? Where will the “Big Data value” come from?
A golden age of analytics is hatching. My friend is stressing over coming up with a Big Data strategy when he should be relishing his catbird seat. Big Data will likely be the platform that supports that new business initiative, that new competitive advantage, that new source of revenue, that new way of doing research, etc. To be in the position to usher in that capability is to be impactful. So what will Big Data dreams fulfilled look like?
In a nutshell, IT execs driving Big Data strategies have to set up an architecture that will grant business users, armed with analytical tools, the ability to query data from anywhere. In that respect Big Data is less about setting up new systems and more about developing secure, auditable, efficient access to everything, inside and outside of the firewall.
We won’t all get there tomorrow, obviously, but that is the end state. For executives to find a mid-point between here and there, you won’t find it without being in touch with the “dreaming” business users will do about how they can leverage access to all information. Today’s Big Data requires IT execs to point the innovation work at the creative process of the business. If it doesn’t’ exist yet, do yourself and them a favor and seed the discussion. You’ll both be better off if your Big Data solution aligns with their yet-to-be-developed use case.