Bridging the Big Data Divide between Business and IT

I spend my time working with customers trying to figure out where and how to start their big data journey. Phase one of the discussion is trying to explain what big data is and why it’s important. It’s an educational process. Phase two of the journey to big data is the experimental stage. I look at a sample of the customer’s data and start playing with it to look for potential value. Phase three is when companies try to figure out from a business perspective where they should begin. They want to know what the right catalyst is for transforming their data infrastructure and how to take advantage of their different data sources. This is the hardest part of the journey to overcome because it requires the business and IT side of the house to talk to each other and establish a shared sense of purpose. You have to drive consensus and collaboration between the business and IT.

If you tackle big data as a business-only initiative without the technology there, you’re going to fail. If you tackle it as a technology initiative without the support of the business, you’re going to fail. There is often a really difficult situation where the business and the IT folks have to talk the same language and they don’t like doing it. It’s almost as if there is a civil war going on between them.

If the business gets caught up in the “who controls the big data initiative” battles with IT, they are not going to get what they need to get out of the big data initiative. In other words, if the business doesn’t sponsor it, if they don’t own it and they use IT solely as an after-the-fact thought, big data will not be successful for them. It must be a joint, collaborative effort.

For example, if a business unit decides to not get IT involved and builds their own little analytics sandbox, they will never be able to operationalize it back into the company’s CRM system, call center system and management dashboard. This is a huge problem!

One thing I hear a lot in many of my discussions is that there is potential to transform the business side from business monitoring to business optimization, but you need to have senior-level commitment to be successful. From a business perspective, big data introduces a vocabulary of words like “optimize,” “predict,” “forecast,” and “score,” which makes business people really excited.

What is important to remember when talking about how to realize the big data opportunity is that it has less to do with technology and less to do with data. It has more to do with who at the senior level can see and embrace this change, has the power to rewire the value creation processes and can champion this transformation from the top.

For whatever reason, many senior executives are threatened by data and that is why so many companies are still in the phase one educational stage of the big data conversation. It’s very hard for them to let go of decisions they have traditionally made with their gut and now have to rely on the numbers. The companies who succeed and thrive are going to be the ones who have leaders who are willing to do what it takes to really be data-driven, and that includes partnering with IT.

Bill Schmarzo

About the Author: Bill Schmarzo

Bill Schmarzo is the Customer Advocate for Data Management Innovation at Dell Technologies. He is currently part of Dell Technology’s core data management leadership team, where he is responsible for spearheading customer co-creation engagement to identify and prioritize the customers' key data management, data science, and data monetization requirements. Bill is the former Chief Innovation Officer at Hitachi Vantara where he was responsible for driving Hitachi Vantara’s Data Science and “co-creation” efforts. Bill also has served as CTO at Dell EMC where he formulated the company’s Big Data Practice strategy, identified target markets, developed solution frameworks, and led Analytics client engagements. As the VP of Analytics at Yahoo, Bill delivered the analytics tools and applications that optimized customers’ online marketing spend. Bill is the author of four books and is currently an Adjunct Professor at Menlo College, an Honorary Professor at the University of Ireland – Galway, and an Executive Fellow at the University of San Francisco, School of Management. Bill holds a Master of Business Administration from University of Iowa and a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics, Computer Science and Business Administration from Coe College.