By Doug Harr
CIOs have a tremendous opportunity to harness Big Data. But CIOs are also wary of buzz words and heavily marketed trends which often lead to pursuits that are secondary rather than those aligned to key results. And while it may not be clear to everyone in the executive ranks, CIOs are keenly aware that all systems (not just business systems) in an organization spew out data, much of which can be mined for useful information. When I was CIO at Splunk, we called this systems-generated data “machine data” and I had the chance to witness just how many brilliant things can be done by harnessing it. So when and where does it make sense for CIOs to embark on data driven projects? How can a CIO choose where to focus efforts?
In a typical corporation, CIOs look after everything from business applications, operations and infrastructure, security, and the infrastructure that supports their web presence. Looking across the vast portfolio of services they support, a CIO’s primary concern will be to properly implement capabilities, and then manage them in such a way that the business is effectively and efficiently supported. Taking on analytics becomes the next layer to tackle once each fundamental service is in place. Where the rubber meets the road is when you can use machine/big data to determine more than just the status of your infrastructure. That is, when you can see the opportunity to mine data for services that support the portfolio and ultimately the corporation’s key results.
Select a Use Case: Focus on high-value use cases first. External-customer facing use cases are particularly well suited as first forays into data mining programs. Making the customer experience as compelling as possible is key for all organizations. Developing deeper insights into this experience has enormous potential and will garner support from your marketing team and other internal customers.
Work with Your Internal Business Partners: Meet with your internal team, and departments such as marketing and engineering, to select a use case they care about. Choose a project that will impact their external customers—typically the customers of your company. While internally focused use cases for Finance, HR, Sales or other teams can be instructive, prioritize programs that address the company’s core product or service and customer experience.
Put the Technology in Place: Don’t place all your bets on one solution. Consider your approach and look at real-time products (such as Splunk), cloud offerings, and batch-oriented systems (such as Hadoop). Before you make any purchases, do a proof-of-concept. Ensure you have support staff from the vendor working with you and try a sample set of your data in their engine.
Review the Reports: Step back and review reports from the solutions you are considering. Analyze the insights, both qualitative and quantitative. For example, if you use a customer support system for your proof-of-concept, ask questions like these:
- How long does it take a customer to get through the online sales cycle? How much time elapses from engagement to first customer support call?
- How long are customers spending in our systems?
- How many orders are placed per month? What’s the typical amount of time it takes to book an order? How long does it take to book an order at month end?
- Does it appear anyone is trying to infiltrate our systems?
Demonstrate What You Can Produce: Share your proof-of-concept results with your internal team. There’s no greater fun than giving your sales and marketing customers something they didn’t have before, something that helps them make better decisions more quickly. Note that there are some use cases you will never be able to share widely. For example, security use cases can only be shared with security personnel and auditors.
Bringing Big Data programs into your company is worth the effort. These data can tell you things about your business and systems you can’t learn any other way. Chosen and managed carefully, these programs can improve customer service (internal and external) provide a qualitative view into the customer experience, offer clearer insight into the products and services, and even enable a company to better understand its own employees.
Doug Harr is a partner at StrataFusion. He has more than 25 years of technology leadership experience both as an executive-level technology practitioner and in senior leadership roles for professional services organizations. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow Doug at twitter.com/douglasharr.