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Big data in the real world: how to move from buzzword to strategy?

John Sidhu | April 16, 2015
Has your business worked out its five-year big data roadmap?

Big data analytics

Big data analytics is at the heart of future success. In September 2011, Philip Carter at IDC wrote a paper 'Big Data Analytics: Future Architectures, Skills and Roadmaps for the CIO'. Here he observed that one of the key differences between analytics in the traditional mode and analytics in the big data era is that the variables and modes are likely to be entirely new, requiring a different infrastructure strategy as well as new skill sets.

Over three years later the biggest challenge facing organisations is still this need to plan appropriately to get the most out of big data. Bringing together the business and IT functions to jointly develop architecture-led planning or a capability-led roadmap will help today and in the future.

A capability-led roadmap puts business capabilities at the heart of the IT strategy and delivers a business aligned IT framework. An IDC survey in 2011 posed a question to CIOs asking what technologies would be most useful to harness competitive advantage. The leading answer was better "business intelligence and analytics".

The challenge comes because using data effectively to define business strategy is difficult. Traditional business intelligence solutions fail here as frequently you will not know the questions you want to ask. Data warehouses have to be created to store data without a clear idea about how that data will be interrogated. Call it a data lake, refinery or reservoir, we're not precious, but we do think that CIOs need to understand that all data has potential value (if not to you, then to a possible partner), and placing that data in a container then allows it to be explored by the increasingly ubiquitous data scientist.

Data scientists can work with the business to really understand what their data is telling them. This will help reveal trends and patterns that will shape the business strategy. This then drives the capability aligned IT framework, and so the process repeats. With every cycle, more data is harnessed, thus improving the business' ability to make strategy decisions, so long as the data interrogation techniques can cope with the ever-increasing volumes and complexity of the organisation's data. Herein lies the biggest challenge facing big data at the present time.

Businesses should create a structure to measure success and a target path that allows for inevitable change. This will equip organisations to make much smarter, data-led decisions on a longer-term basis, delivering the power to improve the way organisations understand and respond to their customers.

We urge organisations to do two things. The first is to take the time to understand the data that they have access to and how this could benefit all parts of the business. The second is to develop a roadmap that sets the foundations to support the business in exploiting that data over the next five years, and beyond. This will ensure that big data delivers back to the heart of the business.

John Sidhu is a partner at Glue Reply, the specialist consultancy within Reply Group focusing on business-led IT planning and execution


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