Big Data Success Essentials: Tech, People, and Process

There's been plenty of talk in recent months about why we can't overlook the role of people in an analytics initiative. Conference speakers, software providers, and bloggers have looked beyond the software and the data to hammer home the importance of good analytics professionals and how systems have to get business people to appreciate data.

It's great how thought leaders are recognizing that all the world's complex circuitry, big data, and brilliant algorithms are as useful as a bucket of mud if people -- business leaders or customers -- can't benefit from the what the data shows.

However, it's not just people that have been forgotten far too often. Let's not lose sight of the importance of the amorphous blob that spreads through every organization: process.

Process can be our friend. When it gets in our way, it's our foe. Done right, it's what delivers data to where it's needed. In some cases the need for process is obvious, as it is in an Internet of Things implementation.

Take the now-common example of an IoT application that monitors the status and maintenance requirements of a remote piece of machinery. If the app identifies a potential maintenance need it issues a yellow alert. If the remote machine goes down, the alert goes out as red. The role of process: It identifies who should be made aware of the alert and what action has to be taken. Without process, all you have are pretty little lights, and a dead machine.

The need for process is less apparent in something like a sales analysis. The system design has to factor in who gets which reports, and also when issues have to get escalated. So, when sales in Region 5 are stable or growing, weekly reports may only need to go to the regional representatives and managers. But when the sales figures -- good or bad -- pass certain thresholds alerts go to those higher in the corporate food chain. Deciding who gets what and when, and perhaps what they should do, is all part of process.

Image: Pixabay/geralt
Image: Pixabay/geralt

All of us have heard of examples where data died on a spreadsheet because it didn't get to the right people, or because nobody ever told those people what to do with it. Think of poor machine that crashed because the maintenance alert never got to the maintenance worker. I remember one case that was cited some months ago where customer service app highlighted "at risk" customers, but nobody told the agents in the field.

We've also heard of the failures where a department head brought in an analytics professional to gather data without knowing what type of problem they hoped to solve. That's a process failure, and likely leads to a people failure. Equally bad is when that department head neglects to let others in the group or in other relevant groups know that they have a wealth of data. It may be intentional or it may be simple neglect, but the result is the evil data silo.

Process can't simply be an afterthought. It has to be built in from the start, from the "let's see what the data says about..." stage. Then it has to adapt as the analytics team and the business leaders learn. Think of that process as being iterative or organic, evolving as new data emerges, spawning new uses.

Having terabytes of data and amazing technology might seem nice, but it's meaningless if you don't put the data to work. We have good people. Process is about getting that data into their hands so they can take appropriate action.

James M. Connolly, Editor of All Analytics

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editor of All Analytics he writes about the move to big data analytics and data-driven decision making. Over the years he has covered enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, the rise of web-based business, and IT management. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. Throughout his tech journalism career, he has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through publications including Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups and the Boston-area venture capital sector at MassHighTech. A former crime reporter for the Boston Herald, he majored in journalism at Northeastern University.

Amazon Key and Trust: The Ultimate Open Door Idea

Amazon Key in-home delivery offering isn't for everyone. It raises a few questions about who you trust not only with your data but with access to your front door.

Big Data Success Essentials: Tech, People, and Process

While there is an increasing focus on the role of people alongside technology in analytics initiatives, let's not forget that process -- business rules -- play an important role in big data success.

Forecasting vs. quarterbacking
  • 10/18/2017 1:07:52 PM

Jim, you make a great point we analyze data but often our forecasting is not as accurate building trends and making predictions is still not that successful as we saw with our presidential elections. The process is integrated and requires that we analyze data and use some creativity. So many still don't value the true skills of a researcher, I have seen lay people hired to moderate focus groups and write surveys the results are often highly skewed and then there are statements about the research being "wrong"

Re: Process
  • 10/18/2017 8:21:05 AM

All the more reason to get larger companies aboard the process program to make sure the information gets to the right people and the people get the right information. I've always been fascinated by marketing programs where ads go out to the customers but the folks (sales and even managers) at the company don't know about it.

Re: Process
  • 10/16/2017 2:45:56 PM

Seth, good point on small enterprises doing a better job at keeping the right people in the loop. But then, they have more overlapping responsibilities, so it's easier to get to the best person. Action is quicker as a concequence as well. Tighter loop!

  • 10/13/2017 7:37:25 PM

I think it's easier for smaller companies to keep people in the loop because it's easier to find the right person who would be in charge of what ever data.  There's more willingess to share and answer questions.