Five things the CEO wants to know about Big Data

Five things a CEO needs to know about big dataI spend a lot of time talking to companies about big data and data science. Many conversations are with people at the CxO level (CEO’s, COO’s, CFO’s, etc etc) and usually revolve around basic discussions of big data and data analytics.   One of the things that has surprised me a little from these discussions is that these CxO level people have the same basic questions about big data.

Those of us who are consultants and practitioners within the big data space like to wax poetic about big data and data science like to think that ‘this time is different’ and that big data is really going to change things for the better for any company.   While that may be the case, there are still some very basic questions that need to be answered within every organization before any major investment is made. The questions that I hear most from CxO level people can be categorized into the following types of questions:

  1. What is it?
  2. Why do we care?
  3. How is this different than {insert name of previous approach here}?
  4. What is this going to cost?
  5. Who is going to manage this?

All valid questions and all questions that should be expected when any major initiatives are being discussed. Additionally, these questions shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone that’s been around CxO level folks before…but they often come as a surprise to many technical people because many think that big data ‘just makes sense’ and should be implemented immediately. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is the exact same type of thinking that has led organizations down many other non-fruitful paths in the past.

For example, I can think back to my early days in telecom and remember my very first job out of college. I was a software tester working on a new hardware platform that was being designed / built to offload data traffic from the public telephone network (PSTN) onto an ATM network. This was cutting edge stuff at the time during the late 1990’s when getting online meant to connect your modem to the PSTN.   The market research had been performed to show that a need existed for this and many discussions where held with technical people at many different telecom service companies. Everything looked great for this particular company until the time came to sell the product.  The CxO level people at these telecom companies were basically asking the questions I’ve listed above…and the answers weren’t compelling enough to warrant an investment in this new, unproven technology.  Sadly, the company I worked for shut down this particular product line after finding no real interest in the product.

Some of you may be thinking that my example is quite different than big data, Sure, there are proven examples of big data initiatives bringing fantastic rewards for organizations – but there are also many other examples of big data initiative failures so it makes sense that companies are cautious when it comes to new technology /initiatives.

When it comes to your big data initiatives, can you answer the above five questions for your organization?

  • Ethan Stewart

    Interesting article, it’s good seeing the other side! I guess every new technology at one point were confronted to this kind of questions. I believe, it highlights the importance for companies to work on their communication and how they sell their product.

    As much as the Cloud seems to “makes sense” now I guess it faced the same questions. That would be interesting to see if company answer those five questions when selling a product!