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How to Start a Client Conversation About Big Data Applications

March 26, 2017

How do you talk to your customers about their big data needs? Big data may be the ideal solution for your clients’ problem, but they may see big data applications too complex for their business needs. Big data is a big topic, so before you start talking about big data applications, be prepared to justify your case.

Perhaps Brian Hopkins of Forrester Research said it best when he misquoted the movie “Fight Club”: “First rule of big data: don’t talk about big data.” His point is that those who understand and need big data have already figured it out and are doing it; they don’t need to talk about it. They already know how big data is going to solve their issues and deliver ROI. You have to sell those who don’t see the value of big data, and you have to make the case for analytics in the context of solving a real problem.

It’s Not the Data, It’s the Analytics

Talking about the rising volume of data and how the client needs to store it is not just about the hardware you want to sell them; talking about the business insight they get from analytics is the value they get from the data. Clients need more information, not more data.

As Paul Zikopoulos, Vice President of Information Management Technical Sales and Big Data at IBM, notes:

Whenever I talk to customers of any size, I suggest [that they’ve] probably been doing big data for a long time. And the reason why I’ll suggest that is because if we can come to the agreement that [big data] is about analytics and deriving value and monetizing data, then my suggestion is that you have an analytics IQ. You’ve [already] been landing data and cleansing it and maybe aggregating it into cubes; you’ve done that to establish your IQ. What big data is in the new modern era, if you will, is an opportunity for you to increase your analytics IQ. You can increase your IQ by looking into raw data to find things you never dreamed about; you can connect the dots between your systems of record and systems of engagement; and more.

Ask your client about their analytics; what reports they are running and where do they need more information to make better decisions. Help them make the connection between the data and the potential insight. Then you can start talking about the added value they would get from big data applications.

Do You Need More Data than is In the Warehouse?

Your clients have already invested a lot of time and money building out data warehouse systems. They run daily reports and use basic analytics to get information from transactional data: how are sales? Which stores performed best? Which products aren’t selling?

Now ask your client if they need to look beyond the data in their warehouse. How do sales affect the supply chain, budgeting, personnel, and other factors? Suddenly you have moved beyond the nice, orderly world of the structured data warehouse into the universe of unstructured data that has to be imported for more complex analytics. Now you are in Hadoop territory so you are talking big data applications to deliver business intelligence. Nancy Hensley from the IBM Data Warehousing team calls this “Relishing the Big Data Burger”; Hadoop is “the metaphorical bun for the big data burger”:

The reality is that the data warehouse is still the meat of the reporting and analytics that organizations do day in and day out. Hadoop hasn’t changed that reality quite yet. What has changed, though, is the realization that this great technology called Hadoop can now help businesses tap data sources they couldn’t use before. This technology, as it turns out, is a very nice complement to the burger, much like a nicely warmed pretzel roll is to a cheddar jalapeño pub burger—are you hungry yet?

Using Hadoop is less expensive than restructuring the data warehouse, and deploying big data applications using Hadoop means you are no longer limited to analytics from structured data at hand. Now you can talk about big data application deployment in terms of what returns it offers the client.

These are many ways to engage your customers in the big data conversation, as long as you start with their problem and see if there is a need for big data solutions. There are dozens of applications for big data that can address real business problems in sales, marketing, manufacturing, supply-chain, and other areas of operations. You just have to uncover them.

Not sure where to get started? That’s why we are here, to advise. What big data challenge do your clients face? We can help you make the business case for big data applications. Let us know how we can help.