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Big Data

Why companies of all sizes need to develop a data strategy

While the first internet interactions date back to the 1960s when the US Department of Defense used packet switching to allow multiple computers to communicate on a single network, the internet became more widely known and recognized in the 1990s when Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. And with every new evolution comes a new set of buzz words and phrases such as “The Internet of Things” and “Big Data”. What does this all mean and how should you think about these terms in relation to your business?

First, take a deep breath and relax. You haven’t missed anything, in fact, you are part of the living history of innovation and digital revolution. Let’s start with a few definitions and then talk about the applications in your world.

The Internet of Things

The easiest way to think about this expression is if your device has an IP address and it can be searched on the web, then it is part of the every growing network of the Internet of Things.  The possibilities are endless. Today we are familiar with the usual products: your cell phone, your computer, a printer and the various other typically recognized devices that are connectable to the internet. The vision for tomorrow is for the addition of products not typically associated with the internet. Flashback to the Jetson cartoon with robotics and a fully automated environment. Every aspect of the Jetson’s daily life was connected on the IoT.  Imagine a world where your coffee pot, range, vehicles and robots are all part of the fluid world design to automate daily living. As we move toward 2020, the ever increasing number, scope and range of devices that will be connectable will grow exponentially. The size of the overall market for big data services will continue to grow to close to 100 Billion dollars by 2026.  (Source)


Big Data

According to an article published in the Economist, May 6, 2017 issue (Source), data has displaced oil as the world’s most valuable resource. As the continued explosion of the number and kinds of devices that will be connectable continues to mushroom, so does the amount of data being collected. Big Data can sound like an ominous term, but actually it’s nothing more than the sum total of all transactions (pictures, purchases, articles, apps) being stored in some storage area either on local or remote storage devices.  The essential challenge for the data is turning it into useful information which can help predict patterns for the future. Data keeps coming in faster and faster and in higher and higher volumes and the ability to analyze it to inform your strategy and plan is the key. You need to formulate a plan and come up with a strategy for how to mine it well.  

Start with a good infrastructure foundation. There are many good vendors (Pure, EMC-Dell, NetApp and others) who can provide the right starting point. Rapid evolution of technology is increasing the density of storage arrays while reducing the footprint of storage making it easier to continue collecting data. Gartner Group offers research and ratings for vendors in all classes of storage arrays including public cloud offerings (Source). Additionally there are also a growing number of tools that help with data cleaning and data mining easier to accomplish (some examples include: OpenRefine, DataCleaner, Trifacta, RapidMiner, Oracle Dataminer). These tools put the power of data analytics within reach of even limited budgets.  If you don’t have the budget to bring on a team of data scientists and invest in Big Data, start with where you are. You can bet that your competition is already exploring their options so isn’t it time you start to lay the foundation for your data future. Check out Gartner’s magic quadrant report on data analytics (Source).

What does this mean for your business?

There long existed rivalry and tension between the traditional technology department and the business operations it has served. Many have stood in the technology ivory towers far away from the source of the action. The good news is that technology evolution has put the power of the mainframe into the hands of every single person on the planet by way of the smart phone and it is now time to get back to basics.  Technology has no purpose in and of itself except to provide the vehicle for achieving the overall goals and strategies of the business. So start with the basics:

Make sure that your goals are clearly laid out – decide what it is you want to accomplish as an organization before thinking about technology. Once you know the direction you want to move in, figure out which technology is best suited to get you there.

Next figure out which of your projects map to each of your stated goals.  The reality is that you can only do so much work with the resources you have. There is a limit to the overall capacity. It’s perfectly acceptable to make incremental improvements to your business while solving problems along the way. Once your work in prioritized against real business needs, you can start to make traction against your plan.

Don’t let legacy drag you down. There is usually a temptation to continue to try to invest in your existing software. Like a relationship that has reached its peak, it’s time to let it go and try to find the tools that are best suited for your needs today. Stay connected to your goals and priorities and make all your decisions from that perspective.

Collaborate. This is probably the most effective yet most challenging to implement. Why? To answer that question would require delving into the depths of human psychology.  Most organizations are plagued with multiple silos of business units running their individual fiefdoms and have fostered a culture of competition and back biting to maintain the status quo. There are only two ways out of this mess. The first is to declare war and start to break up the power holds.  While it may achieve the goal, it usually leaves a wake of destruction in its path so I don’t recommend it.  The other approach is to foster the spirit of collaboration. Bring together all the various factions and start to engage everyone in the conversation. To do this well requires an environment where team members feel “safe” to express their ideas and take risks in the workplace.  For more about collaboration in the workplace, read an upcoming feature on “Why Collaboration is the Way”.

CEO, MACH4 Ventures

Gina Lepore is the CEO and founder of MACH4 Ventures offering coaching, team building and execution consulting for individuals and organizations. She is a board certified coach and experienced executive with multiple decades of practical business experience. Services include: Executive Coaching, Training and Building Team Trust and Collaboration and Business Oversight Services.