The Big Data Wars – Will your company prevail? Part 2


In the Big Data Wars, what does it take to build out a winning capability? We identify the piece parts

big data gap
The Big Data Gap – via TechVentive, BrianSommer

In Part 1, I identified the Winners, Losers and everyone in between, noting the characteristics of each type. Now we move on to thinking about what it takes to be in the Winner’s Circle. But before doing so, let’s pause and understand what’s happening now.

When I learn of amazing big data initiatives, the companies behind them don’t want to discuss them. At least not in the public domain. They know that knowledge is power and they see no value in sharing their insights with others – especially competitors. The longer their big data insights are a secret, the greater their advantage. I get it.

But no business should assume that the absence of any discussion about big data by competitors means that competitors aren’t working on big data initiatives. The smart firms should be paranoid about this point and should always assume that others are working on similar or better analytics.

So, while the gap between the big data have’s and have nots is there, it’s often invisible. Businesses would be wise to proactively attack the space lest they find themselves years behind the competition.

But what makes a firm a winner? At a minimum, the kit includes software, data and skilled people. But is there more?

The Winning Components

Any firm can buy the hardware, analytics, data, etc. to get into the big data space but buying things or hiring people won’t necessarily make the initiative a success. In fact, the corporate culture, the management approach, a lack of data and corporate politics can determine whether success or failure will occur.

Culture – Is your firm finance-obsessed? Would you be laughed out of the executive committee for trying to discuss a ‘soft’ issue like changing customer sentiment especially when the head of sales can point to increasing (but backward looking) sales numbers? Some executive teams are guided by ‘gut-feel’ or anecdotal ‘evidence’. Even when presented with better data, these executives will often fall back on their old conventional wisdom. How can a company succeed with big data if it won’t change its belief systems and culture?

Lacking data – As we say in Texas: “wantin’ and gettin’ are two different things”. A company can want all kinds of powerful analytics and insights but if it can’t get the data for these, it won’t succeed. Manufacturers need to build into products their IoT technology. Companies need to line up and secure third party data sources. Does your firm have any data sources that are exclusive to it? Moreover, would you license some of its own data to third parties as a way to pay for some of its big data initiatives? What confidence do you have that your firm has competitively differentiated data at its disposal? If it doesn’t, what’s the point? You have to plan to win in the big data wars.

People – Winners have interesting people on their teams. They have people who are innately curious and love to experiment. They are fearless when it comes to trying new technologies and data sources. What Winners are not, though, is just as important. These people are not slaves to tradition nor are they loyal to old tech or conventional wisdom.

The winners are often cosmopolitan. This means they are quite aware of their environment. They know a lot about their customers, competitors, suppliers, etc. They also know a lot about other things, too, like the social sciences, poker and other realms that require deep understanding of people and what makes them tick.

Finding/grooming cosmopolitan employees is an unnatural act in many firms. Command & control cultures don’t like people that are intellectually curious. Those people might actually see something or think of something that runs contrary to the collective wisdom of the firm.

Some overly paranoid firms just get apoplectic thinking about a worker knowing something about a competitor. Insular thinking is not compatible with the kind of worker the Winner firms need and want. The challenge for some firms will clearly be the ability to change their culture to be more open to and inclusive of those who see beyond the four walls of the company and its internal data. That may be a huge challenge for some.

Winners are also great at multiple technologies. If your firm does everything on some basic 8086-based servers using standard application software, it’s not going to win the big data wars. Those old school technologies may be great for running your ERP software but one technology stack will not suffice when it comes to cracking the big data code.

Chances are your firm will need tech and people to support additional technologies. These will be technologies like Hadoop, Hana, Informatica, etc. Some of this technology will be locally implemented but more of it may be cloud-based. The data you’ll need to parse may include social data from GNIP feeds.

And that’s just on the front-end of getting the data. Some of the more interesting stuff happens after you’ve investigated the big data. You’ll need to put those insights into the hands of others and that means you’ll need visualization tools (think Tableau), tools to place concise analyses on mobile devices, tools to annotate and collaborate on the findings, etc.

The kit for this is not the usual ERP stuff.

Will your firm win this war or be a casualty?

Image credit © Mark Carrel –, graphic via the author