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Big Data, No Whammies - Data Expectations Vs. The Realization

Big Data, No Whammies - Data Expectations Vs. The Realization

Let me guess, you heard you need analytics, big data is all the rage, everybody’s using Hadoop, and everybody’s doing predictive analytics. You may think you are the absolute last person to jump on the BI train, or possibly the only company that has tried a BI implementation and failed.

The Truth

There are 10,000 companies headquartered in the Fort Worth Dallas metroplex, one of the tech centers of the country, and yet, only a small percentage are using technologies such as Hadoop. It’s not the 80% adoption some analysts said it would be and not even the 35% some reports say it is. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No! It means that there are plenty of opportunities that are still available.

Also, you are not the only company that has tried and failed in the attempt. I’ve seen hundreds of millions of dollars go down the drain on BI efforts that just didn’t pan out. But not to worry, there are plenty of examples of companies who are doing some amazing things with data, and some you may not expect. For example, the United States Postal Service tracks their vehicles, and certain ambulance companies predict where the next call will come from and position their trucks accordingly. These companies make great studies for your own implementations, but there is no need to feel dismayed if you haven’t made it there yet.

What you should not do

Don’t get caught in the hype. There are a million new methods to solve problems that are ancient. Make sure you understand the problem before you begin to solve it. While this may seem like a no-brainer, there are plenty of companies that implement the “buy now, now what” strategy. They purchase a piece of software that they are told will automatically end all their data woes. After a long sales cycle and an even longer implementation cycle, they then start asking the question, ok now what should we do?  When this happens, teams begin to recreate existing reports in the new system.

This could be advantageous if the old reports were truly needed and not timely nor accurate in the past, however it should not be the end of the road. In most cases, it probably shouldn’t be the beginning either.

What you should do

You should really start developing an analytics answers department. Call it whatever you like, BI team, analytics team, get-answers-now-department, doesn’t matter. But make no mistake about it, what they do makes all the difference in the world. They start by finding out the big questions that aren’t being answered in the company. It could be as simple as who and where are our best customers? It could also be as complex as, given certain changes in weather, political climate, and the condition of the market, how much revenue should we make tomorrow, or how much product should we purchase next week?  For social purposes, it could be how do we predict what youth may commit a crime in the next 5 years and how can we implement a program to deter them from committing that crime to begin with?

No matter what the questions are for your organization, make sure you have them engrained prior to implementing a new piece of software or a big data solution.

There are a ton of articles that are written on the implementation of a new program, but remember that it all starts with a business question. As my friend, Chris von Simson, would say in his famously British accent, “What is the business value?”

He’s right. While some of the value you receive from a well-run program will be intangible, you should also be able to point to the “reason” you did it to begin with. That reason is the business question you were facing.

Big data, predictive analytics, unstructured data etc, aren’t just buzzwords, they are real things to pay attention to, but only in the context of your business. See technology through the eyes of the business. Don’t mention how you can implement predictive analytics on their dashboards. Tell them you can give them a list of customers on their iPhone that are likely to buy! Watch the difference it will make.

Don’t worry, BI

DeWayne Washington

DeWayne Washington is a senior consultant with 20+ years of experience in BI and Analytics in over 2 dozen verticals. He is the author of the book More About DeWayne Washington