by Christine Hodgson

Why today more than ever, Big Data is the big issue

Nov 25, 20115 mins
IT StrategyMobile AppsRetail Industry

I have experienced two schools of thought about competitiveness in business. For many successful companies, winning is all about process efficiency. It means making all their current, mainly internal, processes as efficient as possible  – supply chain, procurement, marketing, whatever – and providing excellent IT to support those processes. For others, the focus is firmly on the future, with a questioning approach that looks to identify what their products, customers, markets and processes will look like in five or ten years’ time. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive – in theory. However in my experience the boardroom focus tends to favour process or prediction but not both.

That’s the historic dichotomy, but what I am seeing now is that things are changing. In today’s turbulent global economy, more and more companies are moving from process focus to future focus. That applies even to the most conservative enterprises – those that have made good money from supplying basically unchanged products to the same markets for many years. And just like our weather forecasters, boardroom planners are using current and historic data – lots of data – to predict the future, which is why I see this trend having a deep impact on CIOs.

You will have seen the corporate urge to squeeze maximum value from the vast amounts of data that are now available, and many have turned to Business Information Management (BIM) as a way of getting to grips with this data explosion. But despite the big budgets often deployed to address this, results have been mixed. There are increasing numbers of BIM success stories, but many CIOs are today contending with some big questions around the topic:

What is the expected ROI on a BIM investment? Can the CIO prove that the benefits gained will justify the money spent, when the key benefit – better decisions from better intelligence – is notoriously hard to quantify? Can BIM capabilities be exploited by users at all levels, boardroom to callcentre, without the expensive IT support (e.g. new programming) that can make BIM seem like a licence to spend money? In other words can users make BIM work on a self-service basis? How to prioritise demands from different user departments – especially those who know all about the explosion in structured and unstructured data, and who expect the CIO to help them harness that data to their needs?

Getting the right answers to these questions is vital, and made no easier by the ever-expanding range of BIM technologies coming to market and the number of potential partners claiming to offer guidance through the BIM maze. You may well need guidance before embarking on a BIM programme, and I suggest six elementary safeguards in selecting that guidance.

1. Ensure the potential partner has a track record in terms of BIM clients willing to stand up and be counted. And that they demonstrate serious investment, existing and ongoing, in the BIM arena.

2. Check that they have formal relationships with all the leading technology vendors in the BIM space and, equally important, successful customer implementations of those technologies. Make sure they understand the pros and cons of the different technologies.

3. Probe their in-depth understanding of your aims and needs at the business, not just the technology, level. Check how far they offer solutions and expertise specific to those needs whether area-specific (e.g. financial analysts) or sector-specific (e.g. utility specialists).

4. Make sure they can help you make the business case for BIM, both for major short-term cost cuts and long-term improved decision support. Question their insights into the cost benefits of consolidating and automating your data collection, warehousing, analysis and reporting. And ensure their promises are backed by credible benefits realisation programmes.

5. Check their rating by independent, objective authorities such as Gartner, and whether they are leaders, followers, or not even worth a mention.

6. Investigate how well they understand the change implications – and the human factors – that can make BIM a success or a failure.

This last point is key. A globally famous UK retailer wanted to boost its seasonal sales of gift items such as flowers and chocolates and the marketing manager concerned decided to put their new BIM systems to work. With BIM, she analysed the purchasing patterns of individual consumers at selected times of the year (pre-Mothers Day, pre-Valentines Day etc). The resulting targeted direct mail campaigns more than doubled the response rates – and the online sales – that resulted. Yes, it couldn’t have happened without the huge mass of BIM data on tap. But equally it couldn’t have happened without that marketing manager’s understanding of the potential of BIM.

The  many publicly available success stories demonstrate that BIM really can help organisations of all kinds harness those huge volumes of data that are so readily available nowadays, delivering real business benefits in the process, reducing costs and helping take better decisions, ones that will shape the organisation’s future. I hope that the safeguards I have listed will help those of you entering the BIM world to do so with greater confidence and greater assurance of success.

About the author: Christine Hodgson is Chairman of Capgemini UK

Traditional databases have no hope of understanding the unstructured data in enterprises