Dean of Big Data

William Schmarzo

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This is relevant to a business – either your business is constantly moving forward or the business dies

Business Transformation Challenge: Constantly Move Forward, or Die

I’m a fan of Woody Allen movies, especially his earlier movies (can’t tell you how much I learned from the movie “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex…” but that’s a topic for a different blog). In the Woody Allen classic “Annie Hall,” Woody Allen’s character (Alvy Singer) makes the following statement:

A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

This is relevant to a business – either your business is constantly moving forward or the business dies. And this is especially true for organizations seeking to leverage Big Data and the Internet of Things to drive business transformation. If you are not constantly trying to move forward on transforming your business, then it’s pretty certain that what you’ve got on your hands is a dead business.

So how do you motivate organizations to become more effective at leveraging data and analytics drive their business transformation? What can be done to convince organizations to embrace the power of data and analytics to optimize key business processes, uncover new monetization opportunities and create a more compelling, more prescriptive customer engagement? What can one do to avoid that “what we got on our hands is a dead business” outcome?

Is Fear of Failure Greater than the Desire for Success?
Why are people afraid to move forward? Why do people cling to the past practices even as others have significant success with new practices? Why are people afraid to try something new, especially if it has been proven to work?

These discussions always perplex me. Maybe I just do a poor job of explaining how to proceed. Maybe it’s just on me. But then again, maybe there are deeper organizational and cultural concerns that I just am not able to address. Maybe key stakeholders in the organization are just afraid:

  • Afraid of what they might find?
  • Afraid of commitment?
  • Afraid of change?
  • Afraid as to where this might lead?
  • Afraid of being proven wrong?
  • Afraid of losing control?

Business transformation requires a cultural evolution, not a cultural revolution. We are not storming the castle with pitchforks. Instead are trying to help our clients to find just one business opportunity where the organization can become more effective at leveraging data and analytics to power that business opportunity; one business opportunity that can become more effective through the use of superior customer, product, operational and market insights.

Constantly Move Forward or Perish
All around us and in every – and I do mean every – industry, change is afoot. Again, if you are not constantly moving forward, then what we got on our hands is a dead business. With respect to big data, I see organizations of all sizes leveraging data and analytics to gain superior insights into their customers, products, operations, channels and markets. With those superior insights, organizations are transforming their business models in two ways:

  • Disrupting existing business models; that is, optimizing or better yet, re-tooling the organization’s entire value creation processes through superior customer, product and operational insights (see the blog “Don’t Think Better; Think Different”)
  • Disintermediating existing customer relationships; that is, leveraging superior insights into customers behaviors, propensities, habits, tendencies, inclinations, interests, passions, associations and affiliations to drive a more compelling, more prescriptive customer engagement (think how Mint.com is trying to disintermediate relationships that customers currently have with their banks, credit card companies and other financial services institutions).

We first saw this play out across a number of digital-centric industries (e.g., movies, music, advertising, electronics, retail, transportation, hospitality), but now this business transformation is now starting to play out in more physical product-centric industries like manufacturing, automotive, construction, farming, retail, healthcare and aviation due to the Internet of Things (see Figure 1).

Begin with an End in Mind
We have seen time and again that our business-first approach delivers material business differentiation and financial return on investment. We find that organizations need to address some very simple yet critical questions before they can effectively leverage data and analytics to launch their business transformation journey:

  • Do you know the targeted business initiative and the associated financial and business drivers?
  • Do you know the decisions the different business stakeholders need to make in support of the targeted business initiative?
  • Have you built the necessary organizational support with the key business stakeholders to embrace using the results of the analytics in the course of their business operations?
  • Have you identified and brainstormed the different data sources (internal and publicly available), and prioritized them based upon their support of the key business decisions and implementation feasibility?
  • Do you understand the data acquisition, prep, transformation and enrichment algorithms they should be applying to get the data ready for the data science work?
  • Do you understand what analytic models they should be targeting given the data and targeted decisions?
  • Have the Business and IT stakeholders gone through the physical process of reviewing the use cases (objectives, business value, risk factors) and then prioritizing (debating, arguing, justifying) the use cases based upon business value and implementation feasibility?

If you cannot check off these boxes, then your business transformation is in trouble. But this is the easy part, spend time with the Business and IT stakeholders to review, discuss and hopefully address each of the above points. And this is not just a fly-by meeting or two that just seeks to “check off” the box that says, “Yep, we talked to the Business.” Invest the time and the effort to really understand what the business is trying to accomplish and why that’s important to the business.

Business transformation is like climbing a ladder. To climb a ladder, you have to be willing to let go of the rung below you. If you don’t let go of the past and constantly seek to move your business forward, then you’re likely to end up with “what we got on our hands is a dead shark.” And you don’t want a dead shark on your hands.

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More Stories By William Schmarzo

Bill Schmarzo, author of “Big Data: Understanding How Data Powers Big Business”, is responsible for setting the strategy and defining the Big Data service line offerings and capabilities for the EMC Global Services organization. As part of Bill’s CTO charter, he is responsible for working with organizations to help them identify where and how to start their big data journeys. He’s written several white papers, avid blogger and is a frequent speaker on the use of Big Data and advanced analytics to power organization’s key business initiatives. He also teaches the “Big Data MBA” at the University of San Francisco School of Management.

Bill has nearly three decades of experience in data warehousing, BI and analytics. Bill authored EMC’s Vision Workshop methodology that links an organization’s strategic business initiatives with their supporting data and analytic requirements, and co-authored with Ralph Kimball a series of articles on analytic applications. Bill has served on The Data Warehouse Institute’s faculty as the head of the analytic applications curriculum.

Previously, Bill was the Vice President of Advertiser Analytics at Yahoo and the Vice President of Analytic Applications at Business Objects.