Take the leap into big data

Use big data to shape the future of your company. Because if you do not, your successor will.

“It's our leadership challenge to resolve the organizational and process maturity issues. Like most things, you start small and with a well-defined problem. The key word is 'start'.”

—Tony Young, CIO of Informatica

CIOs commonly confuse what is urgent with what is most important to the business. Of course, your IT staff needs to ensure that the email server is up and e-commerce transactions are being processed. But your CEO needs more from you than reacting to technical emergencies.

"Your title is chief information officer—not chief applications manager," cautions Tony Young, CIO of Informatica. 'The reason is that everybody wants the information. In the data world, the business understands that, but I don't think IT internalizes this," he says.

IT has the unique ability to provide the business with the information it needs to thrive in the marketplace. The colossal growth in the volume, complexity, diversity, and velocity of data can make a big data initiative seem daunting. This is especially true if your organization hasn't gotten a firm handle yet on "traditional" data. But, you do not need to have a perfect information infrastructure in order to get started with big data. You just need to think strategically.

As the CIO, you need to be the CEO's innovation partner who delivers what is really important to the business. Implementing a big data strategy lets you use information to gain a competitive advantage and differentiate your organization from the competition.

"I think the big data challenge is like the proverbial analogy of changing tires on a moving car. Perhaps you don't have a data governance program. Perhaps data quality isn't part of your vocabulary," says Young. "It is our leadership challenge to resolve the organizational and process maturity issues. Like most things, you start small and with a well-defined problem. The key word is 'start,'" he suggests.

Be an IT leader and a business partner

Big data solves business problems, not technology problems. Instead of taking on a big data initiative by yourself, recruit a business partner who can help you understand one unique problem big data can solve for your company. That is a good place to start—and it will get your CEO's attention.

However, your business colleagues—or even your CEO—might not yet know how data can help them operate and build a better business. As the CIO, it is your job to educate the company and lead the way to a big data strategy.

"The number-one skill of a next-generation CIO is your ability to sell. Sell your ideas about the things that really have an impact on the business," says Young. "If you are the CIO, you have an opportunity to sell big data to your CEO and get the investment."

The successful CIO will sell the CEO a big data initiative because it will make the company more innovative, lead it to greater productivity, and create greater agility to meet its objectives. Otherwise, says Young, "if you are not figuring it out, your replacement will.”

To get more of his perspective on the CIO's role in leading the big data charge, read Tony Young's blog posts "Leverage Big Data or Go Out of Business" and "Big Data in India."

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