Businesses can leverage Big Data to fuel innovation and productivity

Businessweek.com is reporting that Informatica wants to be a ‘Big Data overlord’. Part of their strategy, will include an application called Vibe. Informatica’s Vibe virtual data machine will streamline big data operations and allow data scientists to be more efficient.

“The big pitch here is that companies should build Vibe into their applications and devices to ensure they can all communicate well and hammer away at big data problems with relative ease”. 

Clearly there’s a new way of doing business. And it’s being driven by data. Big data. Through years of technological innovation, companies have amassed vast volumes of information on their business activities – everything from structured data on production, marketing, sales, HR, finance, facilities and operations to transaction-level data on suppliers, customers and partners. But the convergence of major technology shifts like cloud computing, mobility, and social and business networks has sparked a new class of data – texts, tweets, blog posts, web-based videos, and other social postings. And as a new report indicates, companies that effectively harness this information stand poised to achieve unprecedented levels of productivity and profits. 

“Today data analytics confer power to gain advantage in ways hardly imagined a decade ago,” says Zachary Tumin, Special Assistant to the Faculty Chair and Director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Program in Science, Technology, and Public Policy and author of Doing Business the Data-Driven Way: Pathways to Success in the Networked Economy, a report that explores the power of big data conducted with support from Ariba, an SAP Company. “As never before, you can see and be observed, talk to and be talked about, sense the present and predict the future.”

If you are a Business, Big data is all about asking data specific questions that hopefully can solve the larger strategic ones. New data sources have come online and data volumes are accumulating at a torrid pace. There is a deluge of data coming from social media, websites, store transactions, and advertising platforms. It’s a new way of operating. But as the report suggests, companies that embrace it can ultimately transform their businesses: Take Cisco for example. At Cisco, the strategic marketing group mined historic data and social media mentions for customers who revealed both a “propensity to buy,” and a high “readiness to buy.” The result? Cisco’s sales force converted that insight to sales uplift of $4.2 billion.

“Businesses, large and small, want to tap into vast amounts of internal and externally produced information to create competitive insights never possible with the mostly internally focused ERP data that predominates the contents of the corporate data centers today,” says Brian Sommer, CEO of TechVentive, a technology strategy consultancy.

Armed with the right tools, they can. Business networks, for instance, enable companies to discover, connect and collaborate with a global network of partners more efficiently and effectively than ever before. But networks are about more than just connecting companies, people and processes. Their real power lies in what goes on inside them – all the interactions, transactions, commentary and insights that they generate. It is from this data that the next wave of innovation and business productivity will come.

All companies will find there is no single, right approach for managing big data – or harnessing its power. But as outlined in the report there are some key strategies for success:

Have a vision – a non-debatable business goal – around which all can rally. The move to data-driven business is a journey, and every journey needs a goal everyone can rally round – and aim for. Having one gives you a reason to take that first step together – and press on over the inevitable bumps in the road.

Create a plan that is right-sized for action and gets value in the hands of users fast. You can’t do everything at once. With huge volumes of data potentially available, right-sizing your best next move is especially important.

Select a platform – a clearing –that can support doing business the data-driven way. Platforms, Harvard Business School’s Tom Eisenmann writes, “provide infrastructure and rules that facilitate groups’ transactions and can take many guises.” Above all they are trusted, discoverable, and usable.

Align your stars. Like numbers, data doesn’t lie. It also doesn’t talk. Making the most of big data still requires human intervention. So bring your A-team, know what makes them tick and understand their limitations.

Manage the politics. Success with data-driven decision-making requires moving the right people toward a non-debatable goal, business-driven, with a feasible plan, well-incentivized, and operating over strong platforms. That takes negotiation and persuasion, the twin arts of political management.

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