Big Data Roadmap – A roadmap for success with big data

Big Data RoadmapI’m regularly asked about how to get started with big data. My response is always the same: I give them my big data roadmap for success.  Most organizations want to jump in a do something ‘cool’ with big data. They want to do a project that brings in new revenue or adds some new / cool service or product, but I always point them to this roadmap and say ‘start here’.

The big data roadmap for success looks starts with the following initiatives:

  • Data Quality / Data Management systems (if you don’t have these in place, that should be the absolute first thing you do)
  • Build a data lake (and utilize it)
  • Create self-service reporting and analytical systems / processes.
  • Bring your data into the line-of-business.

These are fairly broad types of initiatives, but they are general enough for any organization to be able to find some value.

Data Management / Data Quality / Data Governance

First of all, if you don’t have proper data management / data quality / data governance, fix that. Don’t do anything else until you can say with absolute certainty that you know where your data has been, who has touched your data and where that data is today. Without this first step, you are playing with fire when it comes to your data. If you aren’t sure how good your data is, there’s no way to really understand how good the output is of whatever data initiative(s) you undertake.

Build a data lake (and utilize it)

I cringe anytime I (or anyone else) says/writes data lake because it reminds me too much of the data warehouse craze that took CIO’s and IT departments by storm a number of years ago. That said, data lakes are valuable (just like data warehouses where/are valuable) but it isn’t enough to just build a data lake…you need to utilize it. Rather than just being a large data store, a data lake should store data and give your team(s) the ability to find and use the data in the lake.

Create self-service reporting and analytical systems / processes.

Combined with the below initiative or implemented separately, developing self-service access and reporting to your data is something that can free up your IT and analytics staff. Your organization will be much more efficient if any member of the team can build and run a report rather than waiting for a custom report to be created and executed for them. This type of project might feel a bit like ‘dashboards’ but it should be much more than that – your people should be able to get into the data, see the data and manipulate the data and then build a report or visualization based on those manipulations. Of course, you need a good data governance process in place to ensure that the right people can see the right data.

Bring your data into the Line of Business

This particular initiative can be (and probably should be) combined with the previous one (self-service), but by itself it still makes sense to focus on by itself. By bringing your data into the line of business, you are getting it closer to the people that best understand the data and the context of the data. By bringing data into the line of business (and providing the ability to easily access and utilize said data), you are exponentially growing the data analytical capabilities of your organization.

Big Data Roadmap – a guarantee?

There’s no guarantee’s in life, but I can tell you that if you follow this roadmap you will have a much better chance at success than if you don’t.  The key here is to ensure that your ‘data in’ isn’t garbage (hence the data governance and data lake aspects) and that you get as much data as you can in the hands of the people that understand the context of that data.

This big data roadmap won’t guarantee success, but it will get you further up the road toward success then you would have been without it.


The New CIO Revisited

New CIOOver on The CIO Leader, Ian Cox asks “Are CIO’s running out of time?”  In the article, Ian provides an excellent analysis of the current state of the CIO and argues that CIO’s are definitely not running out of time especially if the CIO realizes that the role today is different than it was in years past.

Ian writes that CIO’s need to better understand the New role of the CIO and follow a new model. He writes:

In this new model, rather than being the gatekeeper of the technology budget and the provider of all technology used by the business, the new type of CIO and IT function act as brokers, providing advice, guidance and access to the technology required by the rest of the business. It is a far more important and valuable role but it requires a different type of CIO and a different type of IT function.

Emphasis mine.

There are some CIO’s out there that have embraced the changing landscape of IT. These CIO’s have figured out that their future lies within a collaborative environment with other groups within the organization. They’ve realized that groups like Marketing and the Chief Marketing Officer have been increasing their technological knowledge exponentially over the last few years. They’ve realized that the future of the IT group and their future as CIO lies within their ability to help lead technology solutions within a company without having to ‘own’ that technology or the budget for that technology. I’ve given these CIO’s a new moniker. They are New CIO’s.

While these CIO’s have figured out the future of their role and the IT group is changing, there are many other CIO’s who’ve yet to figure it out – or at least have yet to accept that changes are coming (or have already arrived). These second types of CIO’s are looking for ways to get their ‘old’ lives back. They’re looking for ways to own all technology budgets, projects and systems and are constantly fighting the CMO and others to regain the control they once had. Just like the New CIO’s, I’ve given this second type of CIO a moniker as well. They are Old CIO’s.

I know…I know…not very interesting names for either, but stick with me in this journey and you’ll see they are perfect monikers for the two types of thinking. Not only do they perfectly describe the difference between the two types of CIO’s I see today but the monikers describe the difference in the types of thinking that is required of CIO’s to build the digital organization of the future.

Throughout my career, I’ve generally found myself at the intersection of business strategy and technology.  I’ve spent many years working as a consultant to CIO’s, CMO’s and other’s within many different types of organizations. I’ve worked with large and small companies and IT groups from one to one-thousand people.

Over the course of my career, I’ve watched many companies struggle with technology and technology management. I’ve watched companies languish in the Old way of thinking and I’ve watched companies grow revenues exponentially with new thinking.  I’ve watched companies shrink and layoff staff because they just couldn’t move away from Old thinking. I’ve watched other companies grow their technological systems and capabilities while keeping staffing levels fairly constant with New thinking approaches.

I think the New CIO and the New IT group can bring a more value to an organization than any other part of the business. As CIO, you can continue doing things the way you used to or you can reimagine your role and the role of your team plays within the organization and deliver more value to the business than ever before.

I’ve heard some people say that the IT group (and the CIO) are irrelevant in today’s world. I disagree. The New CIO can make IT and the CIO role more relevant than ever before.

Competing with Amazon

Best Buy, You Disappoint Me By Rob Boudon on flickrI’m a huge fan of Amazon.

Over the years, more and more of my purchases have moved to Amazon. I’ve bought books, coffee, electronics, camera equipment and just about everything else you can think of.  They have everything…and they are cheap too.  Plus…..the whole free shipping (with prime membership) and no taxes makes it that much better.

So…how can a brick and mortar store compete with Amazon?

The first way – the store is ‘there’ for those folks that need something NOW.     Another way – Price matching.  Yet another – service.

Competing with Amazon – Fry’s

Take Fry’s for example. They have a store that I can visit when I need something ‘now’.   I make a visit to their store once or twice a month when I need something ‘today’.  Even better, they’ve started price matching other competitors.  Now…I can pick up something from Fry’s and pay the same price as Amazon – which is nice for those things I can’t wait for.  Sure…I pay taxes but that’s not too bad usually.  Additionally, Fry’s staff are usually pretty friendly and helpful.

So..While Fry’s isn’t my first thought for electronics and computer equipment, it is #2 on my list (Amazon is #1 of course).

I don’t know how well Fry’s is doing financially, but I suspect they are doing OK…the local store is always packed so I suspect their revenue is decent.

Fry’s has found a way to compete.  They have brick and mortar stores, they have an amazing selection, have decent prices and provide pretty good service.

Will I always buy from Frys’?  No…I’ll look online first.  But…I’ve come to the point of checking Fry’s to see what they have.  They’ve done a decent job of getting ‘mindshare’ from me.

Now…let’s compare and contrast Fry’s with the disaster that is Best Buy.

NOT competing with Amazon – Best Buy

I’ve found myself really loathing Best Buy (BB) lately.

When i go into a BB, I walk around in a daze.  I can’t find anything as there’s not really any organization (at least at my local store).

I can’t find anyone to help if I have questions…what happened to all the Blue Shirts that could answer my questions?

The prices aren’t bad but they aren’t good enough to lure me back time after time.

An example – I visited BB this week to pick up a laptop hard drive.  I needed it that evening since my wife’s laptop hard drive had become corrupted.  The closest store was a Best Buy (and it was also next to another store my wife wanted to visit).  So…off we went to BB.

I dropped Tracie off at the other store and went to Best Buy.

I walked back to the computer area and began looking for hard drives.

And I looked.

And I looked.

I walked around every aisle with no luck.

I searched for a Blue Shirt but couldn’t find one…finally, I stepped into the break area in the back of the store to see if I could find some help. There were 10 employees back there doing what looked like nothing (I could be wrong…they may have been in a meeting but it didn’t look like it). I asked for help.

One of the blue shirts reluctantly agreed to help me.  I told him what i was looking for and he led me out to the hard drives. They were on the opposite side of the store from the rest of the computer ‘stuff’…poor location for sure.

Once I found the hard drives, I was surprised at the lack of selection. They had a grand total of three hard drives for laptops.  Not three different types…three drives that were all the same.  And…of course, they weren’t the size or speed that I wanted.

I asked the blue shirt if that was his entire selection and he said ‘Yes’.   My response to him was ‘how do you stay in business’.

Disappointed, I pulled out my phone, pulled up the App, found the drive i needed and ordered while standing in Best Buy (with the Blue Shirt watching me). I got a better drive (more space / faster drive) for about $50 cheaper than the BB small/slow drive.

After this latest experience at Best Buy (there were many many more disappointing experiences before this one), I have to ask myself…what is Best Buy’s focus?  Are they a computer store? An entertainment store (movies, electronics, etc)?  What are they?

Their focus is hard to discern.  But…Fry’s isn’t really focused either…and they seem to be doing OK.  So…what’s the problem?

I can’t answer that question…but I can say there’s a problem with Best Buy. If they are going to have a broad focus (computers, hardware, cameras, entertainment, appliances, etc etc) then they need to have the appropriate inventory and selections to be compete.

Not only does Best Buy not compete with Amazon, they aren’t competing with Fry’s.

There’s a broad lesson here…

If you’re going to compete, then compete. Don’t try to compete.

Don’t try to be all things to all people if you don’t have the capabilities.

In today’s world of electronics, books, computers (and darn near everything else) – you’re competing with Amazon.  To succeed, you’ve got to provide something of value to your potential clients. You’ve got to provide service and you’ve got to have what people want.

The same can be said for every other industry.

If you’re a social media consultant, what are you bringing to your clients that they can’t get elsewhere?

If you’re a professional wedding photographer who charges $2000 for a wedding, what are you doing to show that you deliver value over the $200 wedding photographer?

As a technology consultant, I pride myself on being much more than a technology consultant. I know technology, but i also know a ton about marketing, business, finance, HR and other areas of the business plus I understand the processes within those functions.  I deliver more value for my clients than other technology consultants do.

The main lesson here – if you’re going to compete with the big dog(s), you’ve got to be focused, you’ve got to deliver and provide top-notch service your clients.  Amazon is the big dog…they know how to do that. Fry’s has figured out how to compete.  Best Buy has lost the competive edge.

Are you going to be the Amazon, Fry’s or Best Buy in your industry?

Image Credit: Best Buy, You Disappoint Me By Rob Boudon on flickr

Links for May 15 2011

  • Making Enterprise Architecture Matter By Martha Heller on

    Quote: The ultimate paradox is this: Architects are as necessary as they are rare. “It’s a knock-down, drag-out fight to find people who can do this role,” says Blanchette. “I don’t envy the people who have to recruit them.”

  • Small Wins and Feeling Good by Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer on The Conversation – Harvard Business Review

    Quote: With all the pressures and distractions in our lives, it is all too easy to have our smaller achievements go unnoticed, even by ourselves. Think back on the past few days. Did you achieve any successes that did not make it onto your radar screen? Take a moment now and congratulate yourself. And if you wish, share some with us so that we can celebrate with you.

  • When Did Marketing Become A Dirty Word? by Nigel Fenwick on Forrester Blogs

    Quote: Isn’t it time for IT professionals to learn what marketing is really about? Marketing has evolved so much from the days of Mad Men — today’s marketers focus on creating an effective process to identify changing customer needs and deliver customer value (in most cases at a profit). That’s something CIOs have been trying to do since the first data processing groups were established in the 70’s.

  • Want Profits? Start Here by Ted Coiné on Catalyst from Ted Coiné

    Quote: That’s how enlightened self-interest works. You do the right thing as a business leader. You make long-term, pound-wise, penny-foolish decisions. Take-tainted-Tylenol-off-the-shelves decisions. Provide-better-health-insurance-than-your-competitors decisions. Refrain-from-outsourcing-to-China decisions.

The shifting role of the CIO

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

I just finished watching the video on the Enterprise CIO Forum titled Challenge your CIOs: fear not always bad.   Great video that everyone in IT needs to watch…and every CEO should watch too.

My take-aways from the video are:

1.) The CEO really understands that his CIO and his IT group are there to help the business. Cora Carmody, the CIO, and Craig L. Martin, the CEO, are bright folks who understand that IT isn’t about technology…..IT is about business. Sure….the term ‘technology’ is in the group’s name, but IT should be business first, technology second.

2.) I think I’d like to work with Jacobs Engineering (the firm in the video). Anyone from Jacobs reading this, give me a call – I’d like to help 🙂

What i found really (really) interesting is that the CIO was one of the lead figures (if not the lead figure) on the Jacobs Engineering’s Mergers & Acquisition Team.   I know many CIO’s who serve or have served on M&A teams, but most have been relegated to the role of reviewing technology and infrastructure.  In this case it seems, at least from my watching of the video, that the CIO was one of the key leaders of the M&A process and was responsible for reviewing the entire business – including HR, contracts, technology, culture, etc – rather than just the technology aspects.

The key takeaway – the CIO, IT and the IT personnel must be willing to take on business problems rather than just focus on technology and IT. The CEO and CIO at Jacobs seems to have developed a great relationship based around the needs of the business…rather than the technology found in IT.

Perhaps this video is another small hint of the shifting role of the CIO.

Great video…jump over and watch it.

FYI – There are a few other videos from Jacobs Engineering on the Enterprise CIO Forum that look interesting…I’ll be watching them shortly.  One in particular is titled Jacobs Engineering: let end users have any device they want…that should be a fun one to watch 🙂

Image Credit: Screen Grab from video titled Challenge your CIOs: fear not always bad

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

Reinventing IT might mean rethinking the Business

Daily Pic 25: Reinvent yourself By DailyPic on Flickr

After my last post on the topic of Reinventing IT, I decided to think about the different aspects of actually reinventing IT and what it might actually look like in the ‘real world’.

I’ve talked about this subject before on this blog in posts like The diminishing role of IT and the CIO(?), Building Tomorrow’s Organization – without today’s IT? and What’s wrong with today’s IT? but I wanted to take a second to rethink the act of reinventing IT.

There’s quite a few articles out there on the interwebz about the need to reinvent IT with some dating back to 2007.

Most of these articles talk about a need to reinvent IT or re-imagine IT and most give excellent reasons for doing so. As you know, I’m all for the act of reinventing and changing IT’s focus and function.

What’s missing in most of the articles I’ve run across about reinventing IT or changing IT is the effect the business has had on IT.   You can’t really reinvent or change something unless you know the how and why behind the creation of that entity in the first place.

Why IT is what it is

I’m not going to go into a full history lesson on how IT came to be…but I do want to revisit the IT groups that I’ve worked with in the past…and I think they are representative of most IT shops.

Of all the IT groups I’ve worked with, all but 1 were setup to out-charge all work and the IT budget was set at the beginning of the year to cover maintenance and project work.  The budget ratios of maintenance to project work changed yearly but the maintenance budget grew year over year (mainly because the new projects were completed and added to the maintenance schedule / budget). The project work budget amount was set to ensure that the strategic projects of the organization were funded and could be completed in that year.

So…here we are. We have an organization that has assigned a set budget to the IT group based on strategic needs. We have an IT group that needs to out-charge their work to recover costs so their budget is met.

Let’s take a look at how this usually plays out…

Every IT group I’ve worked with has the same problem. They are asked to do some work by someone. That someone is then asked for a budget to bill the work to.  That’s the way they work…out-charge everything they can because that’s they way they are setup.

Many IT professionals will tell you that this out-charging method is necessary to control the work. They argue that its a way to prioritize what gets done.  They argue that if a person has money for a project, that project must be important enough to be funded.

But does that make sense?  Is the project really important or is it just a pet project of someone with the company?

What happens in the case where 10 people come at IT with 10 different projects and all are well-funded?  How are things prioritized then?  Project selection and portfolio management practices help in this instance but in some groups I’ve worked with, they don’t work that well.   I’m all for portfolio management in theory, but in practice, the person that screams the loudest (or has the CEO’s ear) gets their project done first.

At the end of the year, IT is ‘graded’ by their budget and their ability to get the job done.  Some of the strategic projects at the beginning of the year were completed and some weren’t.  A lot of projects were attacked but not finished.  Many projects were ‘inserted’ into the work schedule based on changing strategic objectives.

But…at the end of the year, the grades are handed out.  Sometimes IT fails. Sometimes IT over-achieves. But…most times, IT gets a barely passing grade.

Is this barely passing grade (or failing grade) due to incompetence or mismanagement? Most times its not…most times its due to changing priorities that aren’t clearly thought through and/or communicated throughout the organization.

Reinventing IT starts with rethinking the Business?

Let’s take a step back and think about why we all want to reinvent IT.  Is it because IT isn’t needed in today’s organizations? Is it because the people in IT aren’t good at what they do?  Is it because IT leadership is incapable of doing the right things?

No…its because IT needs to change to help today’s business (and tomorrow’s business).  I think everyone would agree with that.

But…is the business changing as well? Is the business undertaking a reinvention of itself too?

Rather than focusing strictly on the IT group, lets jump in a balloon and head up to the 30,000 foot level (make sure you take your oxygen mask!).

A lot of the problems with today’s IT can be traced back to the ‘business’.

The business sets the IT budget.

The business sets the strategic goals of the organization (hopefully with the CIO and IT groups input).

The business provides budget to non-IT groups for technology projects (again…hopefully with input from the CIO/IT group).

The IT group takes its orders from the business.

So…why are we just talking about reinventing IT? It might be time to reinvent the entire business.

Maybe its time to rethink how budgets are assigned and projects selected.

Maybe its time to rethink how strategic planning is done.

Maybe its time to rethink the business as a whole.

I’m all for rethinking and reinventing IT but let’s also take some time to rethink and reinvent the organization as a whole. IT is what it is today because of the business….if we want to change IT for the better, change the whole organization for the better.

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