The cultural shift towards harnessing big data sets can be as hands-on as raising a small child, but there a three baby steps you can take to help drive the change.
Big data is the hottest of hot topics at the moment: The confluence of vast, untapped data with mega-computing power has analysts, technologists, and future-gazers frothing with excitement at the possibilities. From predicting the exact moment a customer might want to buy a new toothbrush, to understanding all the factors that might cause a big, complex oil drilling platform to fail in the North Sea -- big data is the answer.
Biggest big data challenge
I would assert that the biggest challenge facing organizations looking to harness these new data sets has nothing to do with the technology, nothing to do with gathering data, and nothing to do with finding smart people to do the analysis. All of these are difficult, but surmountable.
What is more challenging is the prospect of shifting an organizationís culture. Weaning senior executives off their gut instincts and feeding them a steady diet of data and insights, so that their decision making becomes fact-based, will be every bit as difficult as training that child. To use a phrase I gleaned from a recent Harvard Business Review article by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, organizations need to mute HiPPO-based decision making.
The HiPPO, or the Highest Paid Personís Opinion, is the enormous mammal in the room when it comes to the cultural change required to harness big data. Most organizations take direction from the boss. The boss takes his direction from his experiences. As any behavioral scientist will tell you, the bossís recollection of his experiences probably wonít reflect reality -- and, as any middle manager will tell you, the consequences of bad decisions by the boss are horrendous.
Three baby steps to shift culture
Whilst "shifting culture" is a long-term, nebulous project, which can be difficult to scope, quantify, and measure, some of the first baby steps required to drive that change have their roots firmly in the world of "normal data."
Get the data right. There is a reason the boss doesnít trust his data, because itís usually wrong. Implement a data governance regime. Sort out data quality. Integrate systems to avoid reports that donít reconcile.
Put data into everyoneís hands. Insight isnít the preserve of a BI department or those with PhDs in statistics. Give everyone access to data, and see what they come up with. You will, of course, need to make sure your processing tin can cope with the deluge of queries...
Make data easy to interpret. Data visualization techniques are increasingly recognized as critical to making sense of data, big or small. The use of infographics and visualization tools will drastically increase the chances of the boss "getting it." A printed spreadsheet full of numbers wonít.
User Rank: Exabyte Executive 12/16/2012 | 10:13:13 PM
Re: Hands off the data @Saul -- One approach would be to have the C-suites define success before any data is looked at first.
Once the C-Suites sign off on what is required for success, they have no counter-argument when the data shows that by their own definitions they have failed and something has to change.
If even that's a problem, I think it's time to call in Change Management people. I recall one story told to me by Peter de Jager that he was able to get around an ego-blocker by making the change his own idea. It took some social engineering, but it was the only way to get around the entrenched management.
User Rank: Blogger 12/13/2012 | 5:45:52 PM
Re: Hands off the data The idea behind big data is that it works like a light that shines through the C-level... highlighting their good ideas and showing up the inadequacies of their poorer moments. That SHOULD count for their army of invisible advisors too.
User Rank: Exabyte Executive 12/13/2012 | 5:14:03 PM
Re: Hands off the data A good friend of mine recently wrote a book entitled Who's In The Room?, which explores the relationship of senior management teams. His findings were that every CEO has a "kitchen cabinet" of unofficial advisors who make the strategic decisions. The senior management, the C-suite if you will, really just rubber stamps those decisions. With that theory in mind I don't see data egalitarianism anytime soon. Although, I do agree with the concept, and given the ubiquity of Saas and big data apps available to just about anyone, perhaps that data will find a way to everyone anyway. Shadow Big Data, anyone?
User Rank: Blogger 12/13/2012 | 2:13:35 PM
Re: Hands off the data One would hope the benefits seen would help C-suites to open that iron fist - but I'm sure we've all been in positions where the organizations are run by ego rather than insight. Those egos must either be quaking in their boots right now, or deluded.
User Rank: Blogger 12/13/2012 | 12:22:15 PM
Re: Hands off the data @Saul You're right about some people who guard their information zealously. After all, if knowledge is power, who wants to give it up? But if one can offer a compelling business reason for doing so, they should see the light.
User Rank: Blogger 12/13/2012 | 8:52:55 AM
Hands off the data Great advice @David! I can understand the benefit to putting data in everyone's hands, but I can also forsee management's reluctance to do so. Is there anything to be done for a C-level who aren't so giving and forward thinking?
The big data market is predicted to grow six times faster than the overall IT market. The phenomenal growth in data analytics, business intelligence, open-source tools, and related technologies in 2013 looks set to continue.