Internet users produce an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. Yes, that’s quintillion — as in a one followed by 18 zeroes.
That’s a mind-boggling amount of data. Yet, every day, that information is mined, analyzed, and leveraged into usable insights that businesses then use to streamline operations, assess risks, track trends, reach a specific target audience, and so much more.
Big data, the term we use to describe this vast amount of information, is a goldmine for industries seeking to increase revenue and improve operations. But without a solid strategy for how to use that data, you could scour the internet until the end of time and still not see any gains.
Before you dive in to the big datasphere, it’s best to familiarize yourself with what a big data strategy looks like. Then, you can take measured steps to ensure your vision is properly focused and ready to deliver the value you need.
What is a big data strategy?
A big data strategy is exactly what it sounds like: a roadmap for gathering, analyzing, and using relevant industry data.
Regardless of business vertical, an ideal big data strategy will be:
- Targeted. You can’t hit a moving target, let alone one that’s too nebulous to define. Drill down to the details until stakeholders are aligned on the business objectives they want to reach through your big data strategy.
- Actionable. Data can be insightful without necessarily being actionable. If your big data strategy doesn’t serve up information usable by the broader team while paving the way for next steps, it likely won’t be beneficial in the long run.
- Measurable. As with any other business plan, a big data strategy needs to be measurable to deliver lasting success. By measuring your incremental progress, you can refine your strategy along the way to ensure you’re gathering what you need and assessing it in a way that serves your goals.
What’s the best way to approach a big data strategy?
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what a successful big data strategy entails, let’s turn to how your organization might put one into practice. As we’ve worked with clients across industries, we’ve seen the following six steps deliver wins. Your big data strategy will likely require unique details, but this action plan gives you a starting point.
1. Gather a multi-disciplinary team
Big data is not solely an IT project; it’s a business initiative. The team should have more representatives from business departments than from the corporate technology group.
Members typically include knowledgeable staff or managers from finance, business development, operations, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, and IT. The team members should be familiar with current reports from operational and business intelligence systems. A common thread? Each team member brings ideas about performance indicators, trend analysis, and data elements that would be helpful to their work but which they don’t already access. More importantly, they know why having that information readily available would add value — not only for their business units, but for the organization as a whole.
2. Define the problem and the objectives
What problem should be analyzed? What do you hope to achieve through your strategy?
Take three problems you’d like to have solved and formulate them into questions. Limit yourself to three, to start. There will always be more questions to answer. Don’t try to tackle them all at once.
Write those questions as the subject line on three emails. Send them to all members of the multidisciplinary team. The replies will guide your efforts in narrowing (or expanding) the initial scope of study.
Here are a few questions to get the ball rolling:
- What do you want to know (about your audience, your processes, your revenue streams, etc.)?
- Which factors are most important for increasing margin on a given service or product?
- How much does social media reflect recent activity in your business?
- Which outcomes do you want to predict?
Developing a 360-degree view of all customers in an enterprise may be too ambitious for an initial project. But finding the characteristics of commercial customers who have bought products from multiple lines of business in five key geographic markets might be a more manageable scope right out of the gate.
With this approach, iterations in development provide expansion to all lines of business or to all markets in cadence with a company’s business pace.
3. Identify internal data sources
Before getting into the technical weeds, you need to know what data exists internally from a functional viewpoint. Gap analysis will uncover incomplete data, and profiling will expose data quality issues. Your first step is just to identify what usable data you have.
If customers for one line of business are housed in an aging CRM, and customers for a newer line of business are found in a modern system, a cross-selling opportunity analysis will point out the need to integrate those data sources.
Do you have an inventory of data sources written in business language? In forming a strategy, a team will want to have references, such as vendor contracts, customer list, prospect list, vehicle inventory, AR/AP/GL, locations, and other terms that describe the purpose or system from which the data is derived. The list can be expanded for technologists later.
4. Find relevant external data sources
If you don’t have enough data internally to answer your questions, external data sources can augment what you do have.
Public data sites like Data.gov, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Department of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index have a vast amount of information available to anyone who can operate a search function. Data.gov alone has over 100,000 datasets, some containing millions of rows covering years and decades.
Social media is another invaluable source of data. Regardless of industry, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest posts may have a greater impact on your operation than you realize. Be sure that a couple of members of the team pursue data from social media sources to include in the initial study.
5. Develop an organizational system
One of the most important elements of a big data strategy is organizing the data you collect.
Whether it’s analytics dashboards or full-blown data fabric systems, you’ll need a way to organize data in order to analyze it. Decide how and where you want the data to live, how it can be accessed, and who will have access to it.
Remember that the more you democratize data, the more your team grows comfortable with reading and handling this information, and the more insight you can glean. However, this also means you’ll need a strong system of management to ensure the data is secure.
6. Get experienced guidance
Engaging an experienced team that has led others through data strategy and implementation can help you jump-start your strategy.
An external resource skilled in big data management can provide your company with a smooth progression through the many tasks at hand. Your guide should have extensive knowledge of business data elements, or BDEs, which are key to creating understandable and cross-company analytical outputs, including reports, charts, graphs, indicators, and other visualizations. Seek guidance especially if your organization doesn’t have a data glossary, network administration, or knowledge of new technologies, as implementing these can be highly technical and time-consuming.
Planning your big data strategy
Planning a big data strategy will require you to rethink the way you manage, operate, and analyze your business. But with the right guidance and tools you can develop an effective strategy that positions your company for growth and success.
Need a guide on the path to creating your big data strategy? We’re here to help. Reach out to an expert to learn more about how you can leverage big data for your business.