Big Data Straight Shooter 

Today’s Big Data landscape reminds me of the Wild West—lots of promise, chaos and confusion. It’s an amazing opportunity, if you have a plan and can shoot straight. 

The challenge with Big Data is that too many folks are firing scattershot, which further fuels the hype cycle frenzy and distorts reality. I came across an article on ReadWrite.com that claimed “many CIOs are clueless when it comes to big data.” The article cited an IT survey that pointed to an ongoing disconnect between CIOs and IT departments as a reason why 55 percent of existing Big Data projects have fallen incomplete or short of objectives. 

The failure rates don’t surprise me. In fact, I bet another 30 percent are on their way to failure for the same reasons business intelligence projects have faltered for 30 years. But I don’t think CIOs are clueless; it’s just that besides their No. 1 task of keeping the lights on, they are juggling many pressing priorities, from dealing with security threats and BYOD to trying to make the most of a hybrid cloud. 

The speed of business is getting faster and faster, which challenges CIOs because the “what” and “how” are advancing at different paces. By the time a new technology is applied to a particular problem (the how), the business requirements and priorities (the what) often have shifted, creating a never-ending cycle of IT catch up. 

This constant chase has caused a chasm between IT and business, and the best way to close the divide is to step back and start doing things differently. Until we do, the majority of Big Data projects will continue to fail. 

I’ve been in the software industry for more than 20 years, most recently as GM of the database management business unit for Quest Software and now as head of product management for Dell Software’s new Information Management group. I’ve guided the delivery of application performance monitoring, database management and ERP solutions. I’ve counseled many CIOs and business leaders on how to partner better to solve problems and maximize software ROI.    

I’m a straight shooter. I believe in a pragmatic, simple-is-better approach because oftentimes when dealing with complex technologies, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger business picture.

My M.O. is to help focus conversations with our customers to better align IT and business. 

I start by asking some basic questions: What are you trying to accomplish? What would be cool to know? What questions about your business, markets or customers don’t you have the answers to? How would having those answers transform your business, enable you to enter new markets faster or diversify your business sooner? You’d be surprised how much useful insight comes from this pie-in-the-sky brainstorming. This is where good requirements come from–and they never should come from an RFP that a vendor “helps” you create. 

Getting company leaders to engage in high-level, business discussions is the only way to ensure the success of any Big Data project. This means CIOs talking with CMOs, COOs, sales VPs and line-of-business executives. It’s imperative to get these conversations going from the beginning because there is a lot at stake. Gartner Inc. forecasts Big Data will drive $34 billion in IT spending this year, up from $28 billion last year. 

So, the best place to start is by identifying your business requirements instead of standing up a Hadoop cluster and then trying to figure out what to do next. You need to ask all the right questions before determining what data insight and which Big Data tools will produce the desired results. 

Sounds simple but this back-to-basics, pragmatic approach can be daunting, as not everyone looks at data the same way. In future posts, I’ll offer no-nonsense advice and real-world insights into what companies are doing to strike gold with Big Data. 

Drop me a line at darin_bartik@dell.com and tell me how you’re instilling law and order in your part of this new frontier.