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Creating business value with big data

I have heard a lot of IT people talking about big data recently, they are often very excited about all the things that big data can do, but most of the conversations I hear are about the technology. If we really want to get to grips with this opportunity then we have to think about big data in terms of business opportunities, rather than technology solutions.

 

As you read through this article you should come to realize that creating value with big data is not something that IT can do alone, but neither can the business tell IT what big data can do for them. You need to work together to come up with ideas of how big data can create value. It is more important than ever before that IT and the business work together to understand what is possible. If you engage your business in the right discussion of how big data can help them create value, you may find that they suddenly have a much better perception of the value of IT.

 

The only reason that organizations fund IT is because it helps them create value for themselves and for their customers. If IT want to be more business focused then we need to find ways to help our organizations create more value, and we need to communicate what we do in terms of that value. 

 

One of the best ways to do this is to think about IT in terms of a service portfolio. This portfolio can be used to analyze what we do in terms of services that deliver value to the organization.

 

If we consider a value chain from technology components to the customer then we could say that IT adds value at each stage along the way.

 

Value Creation 

 

The problem with this view is that the business only realizes revenue when a customer actually pays for the product or service, so from a business viewpoint IT is only seen as a cost, not as a creator of value. If IT wants to be seen as a creator of value then it must link everything it does to the point where the organization realizes value, and a service portfolio can help to support this view of IT, by defining services in terms of their value to the organization.

 

Big data has the potential to create enormous value, but according to Forrester (Big Data Adoption Trends in Asia Pacific: 2013 To 2014, January 23 2012) “…while big data initiatives may gain a high profile and attention inside the organization, they may struggle to deliver long-term business value”. In fact, “Big data projects therefore run the very real risk of being viewed as addressing a latent need — or no business need at all.”

 

So, how can you set about creating business value for your customers using big data? The one thing you should NOT do is start by thinking about technology and what it can be used for. The only place to start is with a real understanding of your customers and their business. You need to do research to understand how other IT organizations are using big data to create value for their customers, and then you need to take a step beyond that to find the really distinctive things that you could do to set you apart from the competition and discuss these with your customers.

 

Here are three steps that you can take to help you work with your customers to identify big data opportunities.

 

1. Think about the data that you already have.

This may sound obvious, but most organizations do not have a good understanding of what data they own. It may have been collected by different parts of the organization for different purposes and stored in different ways. There is usually no overall catalogue or other tool to help the business understand what data it already owns, so you may have to do quite a bit of investigation to discover what’s already out there. There may also be transient data that you collect but don’t store. As you discover what data is available, this may trigger ideas of things your organization could do with this data to create value.

 

2. Think about what data you don’t yet have, but could collect.

This is where you have to start being creative. You may be able to use sensors or video cameras to collect data about movement of people or things. You may be able to collect input from customers about how they use products or services, or what new products or services they would like. You may be able to get data from suppliers about downstream parts of the business supply chain.  

 

I’m not suggesting that you should just start collecting data at random, but that you should think really creatively about what data you could get if you needed it. When you have identified these options you will be in a much better position to talk to your customers about big data, and the potential it has to create value for them. You can then decide together whether the investment required to collect this additional data is worthwhile.

 

3. Talk to your customers about areas where big data is helping other organizations.

There are some generic areas where big data is helping other organizations to create value, and some of these may make a good starting point for your customers to think about. When you have understood what data you have, or could have, then it’s time to start talking to your customers about how they could use this data to create real value:

 

  • Understanding variability in customers and markets to offer differentiated products and services to different market segments. This could range from “You may also want…” messages for online shoppers to personalized medicines in the healthcare industry.
  • Experimenting with different products, services, or marketing methods and collecting detailed data to help understand how effective these are. This could include detailed measurement of different advertising campaigns in different areas, or producing variants on products and trying them in different shops.
  • Automating decisions to provide more consistent and faster responses to changing conditions. This could vary from automating your supply chain, to automated fraud analysis in financial services.
  • Providing increased transparency and accountability by showing who has made what decisions and what impact these have had. This could range from local government decision-making to corporate governance.

 

Finally, do some research into what other people in your industry are already doing. You’re never going to be special if you just copy what your competitors are doing, but at least this will give you an understanding of some things that are possible. You may be able to build on some of these ideas, either because you have access to data that somebody else doesn’t, or because you operate differently, or you might just have a great idea that was triggered by seeing what they have done.

 

When you have identified opportunities where big data can create value for your customers you may need a partner to help you create the technology solution to make this real. This is where HP technology consulting can help.

 

Learn more about HP Consulting Services and how HP can help you shift your focus from operation to innovation.

 

 

If you want more ideas to help you think strategically about IT services, then read some of my other blogs (most recent blog is at the top):

 

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About the Author
I help clients use service management to create business value for themselves and their customers. I am a senior ITIL examiner and I have wr...
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