In one of my recent posts on Big Data – The Uncanny CMO – CIO Big Data Fixation | Time to Look Beyond, I had called it a shiny disco ball that every organization is wanting to put a hand on. Whether this turns out to be yet another “bubble” akin to the one we witnessed in the late 90s or not, only time will tell but none of that can take away the role that “data” will continue to play in making marketing a more effective and intelligent art. More important than the battle of ownership, it is critical to establish a data driven culture and mindset within organizations to drive marketing strategies. It is a rather holistic perspective of data as a “journey” from raw noise to information and insights, leading to optimizations through experimentation and that journey demands a behavioral change.
I a recent roundtable at MeetTheBoss TV, I had the privilege to discuss the fallacies and prospects of Big Data with an incredible group and Adam Burns, Editor-In-Chief @ MeetTheBoss TV as the moderator. I have taken the liberty to share some of the excerpts from that dialogue as captured by Adam. A quick intro for the group:
- Yigal Oren, VP Technology Financial Markets, Dow Jones
- Michael Bryan, Former Vice President, Enterprise Data Management, Hilton Worldwide
- Steven Bushong, SVP, Marketing Operations, ABC Entertainment Group
- Mayur Gupta, Global Head, Marketing Technology, Kimberly-Clark,
Adam: At last year’s VINT Symposium, one of the keynotes was entitled: ‘big data will become the new gold rush’. How central will big data become as a decision tool for business? How would you define Big Data?
Mayur: Opened by stating that it was impossible to holistically ever define Big Data in a succinct statement. No matter what perspective you share, he offered, it’s always going to fall short of a proven definition –“ it’s a shiny disco ball that everyone wants their hands on”. Went on to explain that the Big Data fallacy is that half of the people believe it’s the panacea to all of their problems and the other half look at it as a pure technology solution. Inversely, access to Big Data is a mere starting point: How it’s used will be the real challenge in terms of a journey from data to information, insights, testing and a more optimized experience.
Technology in this context is a commodity. From this, Mayur asked: Are you looking at Big Data as a means to an end, or are you wanting to become a Big Data organisation? It is a tool to you, or do you want it to breathe within your company? This was a very important point that Mayur continued to highlight throughout the roundtable
Michael: In addition to Michael’s pre-roundtable definition, he unveiled that Big Data was far more than just dealing with large data sets. There’s a technology dimension, sure, but that changes when you talk to the CMO about business analytics. It becomes “the new oil”. The mix of customer, product, channel and the granularity of Big Data will all work together to induce better opportunities for the business – financially, operationally; in the context of product management, customer experience, customer relationship and pricing – “the business and use cases are enormous”
Yigal: Was happy with Michael’s initial definition of Big Data, although he highlighted that he always questions the word ‘big’ as a lot of the definition can be applied to data in general – it doesn’t have to be in a large set context. “It depends on what type of data it is and how you put it into use for the business…it’s more of an instrument for the business as opposed to one for the technological side”. On the topic of how Big Data will likely become a decision tool for business, Yigal asserted that in order to answer that question, you’d have to first:
- Get every department within the business understanding what they want to achieve
- Find out what data is needed and what it’ll take in terms of tech and people skills
- Assess the means to “truly use” that data and its potential results
ADAM: For many companies, the problem with enabling a holistic approach to big data is one of accountability and resource. Technology strategies exist, but not business strategies. Have you solved this? Who is the business owner? What difference has this made?
Michael: A big gap in a lot of organizations is lack of analytical people. Michael cited that if they were to prevail, the traditional break between IT and Marketing couldn’t continue. Instead, a convergence point needs to be induced by the business
“The data has never been missing. It wasn’t two years ago and it isn’t now.”
One of the most immediate challenges Michael underlined was going after Big Data with a “requirements first” mentality. It was here that he offered his analogy that the group leveraged for many a point. With requirement first Big Data, you’ll find the “big diamonds” but the little nuggets of gold get missed because “you’d never find them if you didn’t take the stroll”. He went further to explain that Big Data is a data culture and, “just like the internet itself”, it’s a marketing function that will highlight its importance. Indeed, it’s a technology (like the internet), but one that needs business reasoning to be understood implicitly
“There’s a technology lift that’s an opportunity, but it needs to be pulled forward to meet the business”. How it stands industry wide at the moment, Michael explained, was personified in a statement McKinsey made when they were tasked with some consultancy work for Hilton:
“Treat IT like a cafeteria. You don’t tell them how to make their tuna fish. You let them set the menu and price it”.
This proved the absolute disassociation IT has to deal with in the context of the rest of the business
Yigal: He explained that in his experience, there’s always a pressure on the technology spend and skills; the people you need to analyse data and find its value should be the people who are well versed in the business first, over being experienced in purely technology. On the question of whether IT needs to be ‘more of an enabler and less of a bottleneck’, Yigal didn’t agree with either
- Instead, he agreed with Michael’s analogy pertaining to offering ownership of Big Data as being like looking for diamonds and gold nuggets
- If he offers complete ownership to one business owner, then while that owner will likely find the “bigger diamonds…he’ll miss the smaller nuggets of gold as he won’t have taken the time to stroll through the data”
- At Dow Jones, explained Yigal, technology is the hub that enables the business to talk across its different units and see what needs to be collected, before giving that data to analysts to harvest
“We’re at the top of the hype and about the descend into the reality of Big Data”. Went on to add:
- To collect data and put it into a meaningful model will take time – and Yigal highlighted that as it stands, a lot of people within the business lack the patience and vision it takes to get there
- Instead, they say things like “Hadoop can do everything we want; why can you just get an EDL and get everything sorted in a week?”
- This is an obvious detriment to pushing Big Data into the business. To counteract this, Yigal needs the business to know where IT sits and have the ability to align the business with his perspective
“Try to find the entity within your company that allows you to become the hub of coordination between business and technology”
Steven: On the subject of the business owner for Big Data, Steven asserted that the CMO should be recognized as the user who’ll ultimately drive everything from big Data. He needs to ask the right questions:
- What data do we need to answer which questions?
- What’s our vision for that data?
Regardless of whether that means ownership or not, Steven said it was “about the business driving the enabler, which is incredibly important for any department”. He agreed with Michael’s point that it was extremely difficult to find someone who was “critically adept” with marketing and analytical strategies, as well as being tech savvy
Mayur: On the topic of the CIO/CMO dynamic, Mayur outlined that there’s a dialogue there that isn’t as simple as looking at those job functions in black and white or sheer organizational structures and remit. The marketing department should understand data better if it needs to become a data driven marketing organization, while the CIO needs to grasp what marketing wants to do with that data in context to the broader digital landscape and not just data in isolation.He explained that analyst groups such as Gartner and others have been focusing more on the ownership aspect of BigData, whether it’s the CMO or the CIO BUT Mayur took a step back to ask: Why just Big Data? When it comes to Marketing Technology, Big Data is a mere cog in the wheel. “It’ll never do anything to impact your sales or other business KPIs if you ignored the broader ecosystem of the marketing technology landscape.”
Big Data doesn’t reside in one business silo – it’s underneath every single layer, generated across all online and offline channels. It has to be looked at beyond a solution and, as Mayur went on the underline, it has to become a behaviour that’s within an organization’s DNA and not a sheer step in a life cycle
“If we can use data in our strategic thinking early on, we’ll find far more value in Big Data”. It was important that both the CMO and CIO understood that the dynamic and processes of working were no longer linear.
- For the CIO, the requirement is no longer the technology – it’s understanding the consumer at hand –“ you have to go and figure that out”
- As a CMO, Mayur explained there had to be a better evolution towards understanding the technology – they can no longer look at it as “a binary piece”
Continuing the subject of collaboration and breaking down the CIO/CMO dynamic, Mayur was impassioned that while collaboration on a grand scale was important, he didn’t feel it was as important as understanding the “subtle changes” and change the culture and operational dynamics. “It’s no longer linear. It’s creative, technology and strategy working together to offer collaboration. As it stands, there’s way too much focus on technology when talking about Big Data. It’s distracting from the real point. What is needed are people who respect and understand both the IT and marketing worlds”.
A Common Understanding
At the end everyone agreed, regardless of any of the fallacies and learning curve that we are all going through in uncovering Big Data and becoming more and more data driven in our thinking, Big Data is here to stay and it’s impact and influence on both business decisions and results will only get better and BIGger.