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Big Data As a Strategic Asset: Got Guru?

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Big Data Evangelist, IBM

As a big-data evangelist, I have a virtual kit-bag of expert commentary ready for all occasions. On any given day, I’m poised to respond to questions on anything that has even the remotest relevance to big data. As you can well imagine, it keeps me on my conceptual toes.

Many of the big-data questions are, of course, highly detailed and technical. But just as often, they’re high-level, business-oriented, marketing-flavored, conceptual and open-ended. What is big data? How is big data evolving? What’s hot in big data now? How mature is big data? How secure is it? What are the difficulties of implementing and managing it? And so forth.

excellence.jpgOften, people want me to help them clarify their big-data strategy from an IT planning perspective. But just as often, they ask for my thoughts on big data’s potential strategic role in their business initiatives. I don’t pretend to be a strategic management guru, but I like to think that I’m not clueless on the topic. What I tell them is often a blend of things I’ve picked up second-hand from various management gurus over the years.

Here are the various management gurus whom I channel when the talk turns to big data’s strategic role:

  • Warren Buffett: From the Omaha-based investment guru, I learned the powerful role of customer loyalty in business success. Under Buffett’s “value investing” principles, you should construe loyalty as a durable business asset that distinguishes your offerings, in the customer’s minds, from mere low-value commodities they can acquire from many vendors. Where big data is concerned, I point out that retention, churn mitigation and loyalty programs are strategic killer apps that absolutely benefit from multistructured customer data stores with embedded advanced analytics.
  • Tom Peters: From the “In Search of Excellence” guru, I learned that competitive differentiation depends on pervasive customer engagement in a business environment that is proactive, innovative, agile and people-centric. Using Peters’ principles such as “bias for action,” every person in your organization should be empowered to deliver maximum value to the customer at every moment. Where big data is concerned, I point out that experience optimization, next best action, stream computing and self-service contextual analytics can be key components in an action-biased culture that delivers continuous customer satisfaction.
  • Peter Drucker: From the guru who founded modern management consulting, I learned the importance of a building a management culture that balances the requirements of decentralized functional groups, rather than slaving them to a strict command-and-control environment. Where big data is concerned, one of the implications of Drucker’s thinking is that the core platform should have the agility to support diverse federation scenarios across disparate business, application and data domains.
  • Thomas Davenport: From the guru who has made data-driven management his central focus, I learned that businesses can sustain impressive, measurable business outcomes by driving business intelligence, interactive visualization and data-science best practices into all operations. Where big data is concerned, this demands that organizations cultivate analytics and data science centers of excellence in which statistical modelers and subject-matter experts collaborate on common projects.

In many such conversations, my advice on business strategy is some blend of these perspectives, plus whatever fresh insights occur to me in the heat of the moment. These discussions—with colleagues, customers, press and others—often generate promising thoughts that I pour into my blog and other thought-leadership outputs.

The core job of a big-data evangelist is to discuss all the cool things you can do with the technology. That’s why I always need to have a management consulting cap in my hip pocket.

After all, what’s cooler than runaway business success?