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What Executives Need to Learn from Their Big Data Consultant

November 05, 2017

What Executives Need to Learn from Their Big Data Consultant

Part of your job as a big data consultant is to educate your customers about big data’s value and shortcomings. The big data consultant’s responsibility is to set the appropriate expectations and guide the client through the end-to-end process, correcting misconceptions and helping them see where the maximum value and returns can be found from big data.

According to the Big Data Executive Survey conducted by NewVenture Partners, a diverse set of executives participate in big data projects – C-level executives (44 percent), enterprise data function executives (35 percent), data program technology managers (16 percent), and line of business executives (5 percent) – and each brings a different perspective to the process. Another study by Accenture polled 4,300 CIOs, COOs, CFOs, CMOs, Chief Data Officers (CDOs), and Chief Analytics Officers (CAOs) and found that 62 percent of large organizations reported an extensive C-suite understanding of big data as opposed to 42 percent for smaller companies.

The NewVenture Partners survey also shows that 91 percent of executives said they have a big data initiative either in progress or planned; 60 percent have at least one big data project implemented; and 32 percent have a big data project up and running, so they already have some perception of what big data is all about. However, even organizations that have “been there, done that” need big data consultants to guide them. Every big data engagement is different and as a big data consultant you need to educate stakeholders about what they can expect.

Understanding What Big Data Isn’t

One of the biggest lessons executives need to learn is what big data isn’t.

Big data is about harnessing more data volume, velocity, and variety. However, more data alone has no value without the right context and interpretation. The big data consultant’s job is to work with senior management to provide context.

Big data is not an end in itself. As with many new technologies, the appeal of a shiny new technology obscures the reason for the technology in the first place. Just because you embark on a big data project doesn’t mean you will reap big data benefits. Big data is not a “solution.”

Big data is not a bigger form of business intelligence. Big data isn’t just about processing more information; it’s about studying relationships between different types of data sets from different, often unrelated sources.

The wrong way to approach big data is from the process side. Yes, big data allows you to analyze vast amounts of information. Yes, big data requires lots of data storage, computing power, parallel processing, virtualization, and new enterprise resources. Yes, big data requires Hadoop programming skills and the ability to build new analytical algorithms. However, that’s all about the big data process. Before you embark on the process, you need to understand what you are looking for.

Start with Big Value Data

Your first job as a big data consultant is to help the customer understand what big data really is.

Before you determine that big data is the answer, the big data consultant needs to help the customer identify the right question. One of the biggest reasons that most big data projects fail is because management and IT fail to align the problem with the technology. Any successful big data project has to start with the right business question, and that business question needs to remain the focal point of the entire project.

In fact, one of the most valuable services that a big data consultant can offer is helping the customer define their big data question. Big data has value when you assemble disparate data sets and perform an analysis that reveals patterns that result in insight that can be applied to address a business need. So when you are defining a big data question, general queries such as, “How do I find more customers?” are not as useful as specific queries such as, “What do I already know about my customers that will help me increase my business?”

Let’s use a specific example. If you are a retailer you don’t need big data to tell you if a specific product is moving; you just look at the sales figures. However, if you want to know if a new product is likely to sell, or if you want to develop sales strategies to sell more goods into specific markets, big data can reveal patterns to guide you.

So what executives can learn from big data consultants is how to think about big data? Big data is not a panacea or crystal ball that can answer all questions. However, when properly applied, big data can yield insights that will make it clear how to solve carefully defined business problems. The big data consultant’s job is to demystify the process and align the business problem with the technology, and help to interpret the results.