4 Capabilities You Need Before Investing in Big Data

The promise of Big Data transforming an enterprise isn’t a red herring; companies using advanced analytics are 2x as likely to be top financial performers and 5x as likely to make faster business decisions than their competition. But without proper planning, it can lead companies down a dead-end with little to show for the effort other than an exhausted IT budget. With so much on the line, knowing when to begin your investment of a multi-year, multi-disciplinary practice is critical. A recent article by Jamal Khawaja (@CIOTitan) on the CIO Enterprise Forum calls out four crucial capabilities any company will need to have in place before making the Big Data jump in order to avoid serious losses. I’ve adapted Jamal’s offering with my own flavor and welcome inputs on both lists in the comments section below.


  1. Business Goals – Starting out on a trip without a destination is not a good idea. Without a business goal of how you want to use data to make better decisions, an analytics project can be like taking a road trip without a map (or GPS) in place. How will you ever know where you’re going? Big Data doesn’t magically reveal the steps an enterprise needs to take in order to get ahead. If your company doesn’t already have a set system of how to interpret and capitalize on existing internal and external data, then dumping a flood of information into the stream will leave your team drowning in murky waters.
  2. Available Data – With so much data available today (and armed with your business goals), you now have a much better chance of collecting the information that will help you meet said goals. Remember: historical data is equally important as real-time data. To quote my financial advisor: “historical performance is not a predictor of future results.” Without historical data, understanding trends and gaining insights is nearly impossible because the context is missing. On the other hand, real-time data gives companies the immediate ability to respond and react to changes in the market and consumer behavior. Both historical and real-time data are important for collection. Finally, make sure your approach takes into account both the velocity and variety of data, not just the volume. When it comes to your data collection, establish decision frameworks and benchmarks. Without establishing data benchmarks, it will be difficult to locate areas that need improvement or predict and prepare for reoccurring patterns that may have a negative impact on operations. Without establishing these guardrails, data variability could cause your organization to react too quickly to natural variations in the analytics.
  3. ) A Data Driven Culture – The biggest advantage of Big Data is the potential to identify problems never before recognized in an enterprise. But, if your teams (both working levels and management) aren’t ready to act on the data, then don’t start. There’s no point in investing the resources to find those problems, if you are not ready to shift to capitalize on opportunities and solve problems once they’ve been identified. Investments in Big Data solutions are merely the first step; acting on the insights is what brings your company competitive advantage and improved operations.
  4. ) Smart, Highly Technical Staff – With all the buzz of “Big Data” in the media, it’s not uncommon to hear someone bring up the term in a meeting without truly understanding the amount of technical expertise required to operate the systems that collect and analyze huge amounts of information. Returning to our trip example, if you don’t have someone who can interpret the map, then you’re still going to end up lost. For CIOs and CTOs, it’s not imperative for you to know how to operate every part of a Big Data stack, but it is your job to find the talent who can in the midst of a skill shortage of data scientists.

Big Data isn’t just about growing revenue; it’s also about honing processes and rooting out unknown issues inside your operations and business investment model. Taking a holistic approach to Big Data investment can ensure the time and resources put toward the program aren’t wasted.

For a deeper look at the study referenced in Jamal’s article, check out the Bain & Company’s study on the organizational challenges Big Data creates. And be sure to sign up for the Intel IT Center Essential Series on Big Data that provides insights on big data trends along with detailed research and planning tools to tackle analytics projects.