Big business has been investing big in Big Data initiatives. But, to what end? A recently released Big Data executive survey, published by my firm, reports that nearly two-thirds of participating executives indicate that a Big Data initiative is in production at their firms. Yet, many of these investments have yet to produce tangible business results and benefits. I have been a strong proponent of Big Data, making the case that Big Data approaches are transforming business processes, by putting data into the hands of business decision-makers sooner, by creating more agile environments that are conducive to discovery and rapid learning, and by eliminating obstacles to bringing new products and services to market quickly.
So, why is there a lag between Big Data investments and Big Data results? There are notable exceptions of course. Firms including American Express, Capital One, General Electric, and JP Morgan Chase have invested heavily in Big Data capabilities, and have been able to introduce operational efficiencies as well as some new products and services. However, even these firms candidly admit that they are at the early stages of what they see as a long-term transformational journey that will be driven by Big Data. Within the life sciences world, a handful of firms have been investing and making headway in staging analytical sandbox environments that are driving discovery to improve patient treatment and outcomes in clinical areas such as oncology.
Most firms remain far behind these early innovators, in both the clarity and evolution of their thinking, as well as their plans for execution. While a majority of firms have made substantial investments in Big Data, fewer firms have shown that they have developed a vision for how they will derive business value over time from their Big Data investments. Having developed a Hadoop capability is one thing. Being able to tie these investments to ‘use cases’ or specific business initiatives remain a challenge for firms seeking to rationalize their data investments and deploy the “right platform for the right purpose”.
Some financial services lament that they aren’t seeing an obvious opportunity to create the kind of “sexy” applications that have distinguished Big Data investments for social media firms or businesses like Uber. A few firms have created Big Data Labs and Big Data Centers of Excellence to stimulate innovation, as they seek to identify opportunities to disrupt traditional ways of doing business. But, these opportunities can be rare for traditional businesses that have been built to be risk averse. Within insurance, Big Data is enabling ways to test new methods of claim investigation, which include the use of drones to gather data in high-risk territories.
As firms in tradition-bound industries aspire to unlock the disruptive potential of Big Data, they need look no further than a very traditional industry sector that has evolved as a result of data and analytics. This would be professional sports. Think Money Ball. Bringing this same kind of creative and fresh thinking to Big Data applications in traditional industries could yield similar benefits. Perhaps it is ironic that that the bounding factors inhibiting advanced use of Big Data many not be quantitative constraints, but limitations of adventure and imagination. Einstein once observed, “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere”.
Perhaps to is time for firms to think well outside the box, with an eye deep into the future. Technology has accelerated the rate of business change. Data has become ubiquitous and is proliferating in accelerating volumes and varieties. A growing numbers of organizations express the desire to forge a data culture within their organizations. This is a noble intention, but building a data culture takes time and the progression to data and analytics organization adoption is a journey. Firms need to begin to embrace data as an essential corporate asset and organize business processes around the flow of data through a business, from production through consumption. The pace of business transformation will continue to accelerate, and data will be a driving factor. Data can be deployed to increase measurement, enabling firms to fail fast and learn faster as they bring new services to market.
We are in the Big Data moment. Businesses have made substantial investments in new data and analytics approaches. They will now be expected to demonstrate measurable impact and business benefit from these investments. Big Data is no longer the “new, new thing”. While every indication is that Big Data investments will prove beneficial, realization of this value will play out over time. The period of evangelizing for Big Data has past. It is now time to deliver compelling business results.
Randy Bean is CEO and managing partner of consultancy NewVantage Partners. You can follow him at @RandyBeanNVP.
This article was written by CIO Central Guest from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.