Big data is changing the way businesses operate, compete and innovate. There’s a good deal at stake: insights from big data can empower executives to make more informed decisions at pace.
But while most organisations are already capturing vast amounts of data, in my experience, leaders need to ask the right questions of their data to achieve the possible gains.
Some of the questions that companies are grappling with these days include:
How do we avoid getting bogged down by data and, instead, use it to catalyse decision making?
How do we start to free up our data to make the analytics work?
And who can we learn from that’s doing big data right?
The big data challenge, opportunity, and path forward
Boston Consulting Group reports that the best data-driven CXOs are better at capitalising on opportunities, earning their organisations up to 25% more revenue. A key factor to moving forward, in a data-driven business, industry and world, is not getting bogged down in the data. You need to optimise your effectiveness at making decisions, not constrain that ability by delving endlessly (or aimlessly) into it.
As a leader I use data analytics to drive the business – but here is the key thing about using data as a business leader for strategy: you need to stay above the meaningless detail and make sure you are following and responding to the bigger picture. This requires an open mind because it means being able to spot trends that go against your existing beliefs of how your business, products, market or workforce operates. My advice is: leave your preconceptions at the door.
With our Premier Support solution, for instance, our customer feedback data told us that an end-to-end IT solution would be valued for our data-centre offering. So we put that in place and scaled it. Not every decision you make will need to use big data, but always keep it in mind, as it may equate to more revenue and growth opportunities after all.
The challenge with big data is often not a technology issue, it’s a people, processes and politics issue!
For many C-level execs the issues that most need resolving are in how data becomes ‘departmentalised’ – stuck in different silos in both government and enterprise organisations. Why does this happen? Some managers and departments don’t want to share data too openly, in case it is somehow used against them. It becomes an issue about collaboration and trust, or a lack thereof. It’s often not a technology issue – it’s a people, processes and politics issue! The way to counter this is through communication, planning and agreement on key goals and desired outcomes, getting buy in from across the organisation before embarking on data sharing and analytics initiatives.
There’s a good saying about the right use of big data – put garbage in and you’ll get garbage out – so your results are only as good as your data inputs.
Every CxO I speak to reinforces my impression that there is a learning process going on across organisations in-terms of what big data can actually deliver. A key is being able to access both structured and unstructured data that will be meaningful and therefore also valuable.
Organisations should take the steps for building an all-important mechanism around data to make it clean, meaningful and accessible. To avoid drowning in too much information, creating data lakes are not necessarily what’s needed – instead find what you can achieve through research and the right partnerships.
Big data leaders from the public and private sector here and abroad
The companies getting it right and winning in this space are those really using their customer usage data with more of an open policy on data and apps.
For example, they develop an app or mechanism where their customers are willing to share some form of data back with them – either to improve the experience, gamify the outcome, or have a shared experience with other users (think social media). The data is then, in best-in-class cases, anonymised or securely made available openly or via a secure (user login) integration.
These organisations are also continually improving their processes and customer loyalty by better data-sharing with each other (internal departments), with strategic business partners, and with the customers themselves. You can see the flow of information becoming an asset for these organisations.
Under Armour is an example of this – the business rebranded from the world’s No. 1 T-shirt manufacturer for athletes, into the world’s largest digital fitness brand by acquiring digital health and fitness businesses MapMyFitness, EndoMondo and MyFitnessPal. Under Armour now have a growing registered user base of 200 million, and over 3 billion logged workouts (with all that valuable associated data).
Using the SAP Fashion Management Solution, Under Armour is able to connect retail transactions all over the world with a user’s fitness data, allowing a full view of the customer. The insights provide them with an almost unparalleled mechanism-at-scale for improving customer experience.
Closer to home, the University of Adelaide has bolstered its research capabilities because it needed to crunch growing numbers of big data sets using high-performance computing (HPC). We put a supercomputer in there a few years ago, which helped them solve an issue of limited access to external HPC resources. They’ve since been using it to solve some of the world’s biggest problems, such as making further developments in clean energy and autonomous vehicles.
Universities, explains their then CIO, Mark Gregory, have long-been at the forefront of technology deployments, and they are often quite open to freely sharing their learnings with enterprises.
Australia and New Zealand are world-class in many areas of business and digital transformation, for example, in the early adoption of virtualisation and cloud technologies. And it’s advantageous for us to remain humble enough to still learn from others which are seeing even more success than we are.
A good example is coming from our Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) and NSW Government’s collaborative learning, looking to the UK Government’s success at using data. The Centre for Data Innovation think tank reports that the UK is the fifth-most innovative European nation for data and first for the openness of their data.
I have met and had discussions with the Federal Government’s Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation, Angus Taylor, and he has shown that he’s genuinely committed to innovation in this space. I also meet with the NSW Government regularly and they are putting more and more investment of time, money and resources into sharing big data better.
The NSW Government has an ambitious interest to lead here. They are making more and more data publicly available in a safe and secure way. Organisations that understand how to protect their data but make it accessible will be the winners in data-driven opportunities and create more for others. This is important because it is collaborative, the opposite of a zero-sum game.
In addition to the political will, the DTA and the NSW Government have deeply examined the UK’s digital transformation and use of data: the engagement of the citizens there; how they can best consider passing the power of technology on to make it easier and more intuitive to engage, and how citizens can have fingertip access to the government in a way that circumvents the bureaucracy.
Organisations that understand how to protect their data but make it accessible will be the winners in data-driven opportunities and create more for others. This is important because it is collaborative, the opposite of a zero-sum game.
The opportunity from these efforts comes in data on citizens that the public sector and enterprise can use to create and drive better customer experiences. One data-driven project the NSW Government is working on is to ensure the buses run on time using a glass dashboard (the ominously named, ‘Pane of Glass’) at the senior offices for Government, Premier and Cabinet, which also aims to keep the minister and ministries accountable.
The bottom line is there is no single data strategy that will work for every organisation. Examine the data success of others within and outside of your industry, and look to best-in-class projects for learnings.
Beyond this, my advice is to stay open-minded and find your feet fast to drive your business with data. And leave your preconceptions at the door – that’s the key to winning.
Share your thoughts in the comments and feel free to connect with me on Twitter @mattcodrington.
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