The big data twelfth man

VP WW Marketing, Information Management, IBM

"Don't we already have a data warehouse solution?"

"Is big data even relevant to our organization?"

"Why do we need it?"

"Isn't big data costly and hard to implement?"

There is an obvious disconnect between the C-Suite and big data initiatives. Given today’s competitive market it’s hard to digest that executive management is still not giving big data the required attention it needs to excel. The Data Warehousing Institute’s (TDWI) 2012 research indicated that “38 percent pointed to a lack of business sponsorship as a hindrance to big data analytics programs.” Fast forward to 2013 and we haven’t made much progress as a Deloitte study further highlighted this problem by revealing that the most common “ownership of analytics resides with a business unit or division head, while 20 percent of organizations were unable to identify one single executive with that responsibility.”

The burning question then is how do you get C-Suite buy-in for big data projects? Here I share five key steps to getting executive support for big data projects.

  1. Address the why in their hesitation and skepticism. Outside of C-suite buy-in, this is a question that every organization should answer before any big data and analytics undertaking. Big data projects should never be approached as a “me too” initiative or as a check in the box to respond to competitors. Indeed, big data does deliver big benefits. Our most recent IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) report found that “within six months of adopting analytics technology, some 40 percent of companies counted a quick return on investment (ROI).” Despite this, jumping in without answering why we’re doing this, why it’s relevant to our organization and having a definitive need breeds false starts and hiccups. Executives especially want solutions to the challenges that crop up in every board meeting and add gray hairs to their temples. If your answer to why addresses these problems, it instantly changes the game. So start with the why and share it with your C-Suite. We've seen big data use cases focused on optimizing customer interactions and enhancing traditional security solutions by analyzing all types and sources of big data, as well as applying analytics to machine data for greater operational efficiency.

  2. Map a definitive strategy and time-to-value. Executives all want to know when they will see ROI. Implementation time, total cost, flexibility, time-to-value and return on investment (ROI) are some of the key issues that plague the C-Suite with regards to any initiative including big data projects. Have a plan! To obtain C-Suite support present them with a well-defined strategy mapping the needs, the benefits and the time-to-value. Determine the first big data application and have a clear view of how big data and analytics will transform your business over the next three to five years. In addition, outline the changes the business will need to make to extract value. This should include staffing needs, training gaps and possible culture changes.

  3. Trust, trust, trust…and more trust. An integral factor in gaining big data project support is trust: trust in the data, trust in the plan and trust in the individuals leading and sharing the insights. Our IBV study reported that “two-thirds of respondents from Leader organizations believe enough in the quality of the data and analytics available to them to use it in their day-to-day decision-making processes.” Yet a recent State Street Corp survey indicated that though 98 percent see obtaining data as a key strategic priority, only 13 percent are confident they have the talent in place to advance their data strategy.” Furthermore a January 2014 Economic Intelligence Unit report indicated that “only 46 percent of retail executives are confident that their firm’s analytical abilities are keeping up with data volumes.” Without confidence in the data executives will not apply the insights nor champion big data and analytics projects. Wes Hunt, vice president of analytics for Nationwide Insurance puts it best when he says, “it is imperative that there is trust—both in the data and in individuals—so the organization can more quickly act on those insights from the data.”

  4. TwelfthMan.pngEstimate the cost and determine payment plan. According to a CIO Magazine survey, though many CIOs plan to implement big data projects, “the number-one hurdle is getting the big bucks to pay for it.”  Creating a formalized budget and cost structure is essential to any big data strategy. Organizations need to realize that big data projects do not necessarily start in IT with the CIO and certainly they should not end there. With this in mind, the weight of the cost should be shared across the business units and projects identified in the initial plan. Furthermore, understand that cost extends beyond software and appliances to peopledata scientist, analytics trainingand should have allowances for new hires if needed. 

  5. Get a twelfth man. Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll, declares that “the twelfth man has an unparalleled impact on game days.” For the Seahawks their audience is as much a part of the game as each player on the field. To engage the C-Suite and the organization as a whole, big data projects need a cheerleaderits twelfth man. The twelfth man drives the plan and rallies behind it to promote C-Suite and enterprise wide adoption. With the C-Suite on-board and employees activating a data-centric culture, the echo of silos busting should equate to the decibels of the roar at a Seahawk game. 

Does your C-Suite support your big data projects? How are you gaining C-suite attention for your big data initiatives? Tell us in the comments below.