management, talent, IT, buy-in, big data project

If big data analytics deployments are to be effective, it’s important that everyone involved with them understands how to use them and what they must do to take advantage of the valuable pool of insight on offer.

Therefore, one of the first and most crucial things to understand when dealing with data analytics is that it must not be viewed solely as a technology project. It will be easy for business units and executives to assume that big data should be solely the preserve of the IT department, but this is not the case.

Such initiatives can only be successful if all parts of an organisation understand, and buy into, the potential value and understand what the business is trying to achieve… and getting this buy-in starts at the very top.

Involving the C-Suite

Having the support of the C-suite is crucial to the success of any big data project. Such schemes are often competing for funding, attention and access to resources, and if executives do not understand the value of big data they may be wary of pushing large quantities of resources to this area. That’s why having an advocate for the technology on the board can go a long way to smoothing some of the obstacles IT departments may encounter when building a big data capability.

Fortunately, awareness of big data among top-level employees is growing. A survey published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in January 2015 found almost half of executives (48 per cent) recognise that big data will be a useful tool, while 23 per cent agreed it will revolutionise how firms are managed.

But in order to effectively get the C-suite involved in big data operations, line management must work to educate them about what can be achieved, as awareness of how big data can be used to improve a business is low. The EIU found 35 per cent of executives admitted they do not understand how the technology will apply to their specific operations. This was the biggest single barrier to implementations.

The right metrics

One of the best ways to bridge this knowledge gap and get the necessary support is by illustrating to executives what returns they can expect to see on their investments, whether this is in terms of increased sales, better customer retention, better margins or improved productivity, among many other potential benefits. This is where it can be beneficial to run small-scale pilots and use the insights gained from these to make the case for a wider deployment.

But you need to have the right details on hand to present to the board, as these personnel will not be interested in the technical side of the solutions. They will want to know how big data can be monetised, the ROI, how operations, service and marketing can be improved, and how the technology can help them deal with persistent problem areas that exist within the business.

Strategies for getting executive buy-in should therefore seek to translate many of the technical aspects of big data into business terms that executives will be more familiar with. This may include putting financial figures on both the positive and negative impacts of the technology and emphasising at all times the expected value of an implementation. Relating data back to wider industry trends and how competitors are exploiting the technology is also important.

A business-wide solution

Having executives on board with the benefits plays a key role in helping big data analytics tools expand their reach beyond the IT department and into all parts of an organisation. Close collaboration between business and technical teams is vital in making the most of investments, and having high-level executives advocating for such initiatives will greatly help with wider acceptance of the tools.

Directives from IT departments requesting data or instructing employees how to use the tools available to them may be commonly ignored if personnel do not believe analytics to be beneficial or a business priority. So it will be up to the C-suite to emphasise the importance of these initiatives.

An effective operation will take information from multiple departments, including customer transaction and interaction data, product and supplier information, billing and accounting details and how external factors will influence a business’ thinking. Getting all these working together can be a significant challenge, especially for wide-ranging firms with siloed operations and siloed data. That’s why having a clear voice from the top advocating this will be so valuable to a company in the long term.