Who will drive your Big Data Bus? Executive leadership in a new age – By Joseph Baird

First let me start by stating my dislike of the ambiguity and hype of the term “Big Data”.  And by Big Data in the context of this writing is nothing to do with the overused Velocity, Variety, Volume and Veracity.

But it has everything to do with what we can now more easily know about the signals from the physical world and its systems as well as the interactions and behaviors of customers for a wide range of companies around the globe.

I have spent much of the past five years advising senior executives from the world’s largest retailers and media companies.  From an nascent awareness brought about by the work of Tom Davenport a few years ago to the screaming hype from today’s cover of Harvard Business Review, it is clearly on the top of mind for nearly every CEO, CFO and COO.

But there is also a disconcerting pattern of corporate behavior that has largely left many frustrated and entering the land of disenchantment.   Non-IT Executives, uncomfortable with asking “stupid” questions or appearing vulnerable, too often have pushed the Big Data opportunity back to the CIO or others in the IT organization.

Yet, if you view the problem as an opportunity to create new products, customer experiences or market opportunities, the decision may be a bit different.   Let’s say your Walmart and you are making a decision to launch a new group of groceries.  Or maybe you are General Motors bring the new electrical Leaf to market?  Maybe even State Farm Insurance deciding which products to bring into which markets?

Invariably, these companies would bring together engineers, market researchers, and designers under the leadership of a very senior business executive.  And ultimately, the decisions(after thorough analysis, prototype and experimentation) to launch product would make its way to desk of the CEO or maybe the Board of Directors.

So, when I am asked who should lead a company’s Big Data efforts, I invariably ask what is the business trying to achieve in the market?   If there is a real, clear vision of a new market opportunity, leadership must be driven by the executives in charge of the functional area or business unit and not the IT leadership.

While there is a clearly a supporting role to be played by the CIO,  the bus must be driven by the senior executive responsible for the business opportunity. And, those executives must take the time to get smart about the new raw materials that are available to create these Big Data products.

Henry Ford became a student of the automation of the assembly line.  Fred Smith at Fedex immersed himself in the new logistics technology that picked Memphis as the first hub.  They realized that even though it was a technology problem, ultimate ownership was taken by the business leader not the technician.

Be good to remember as you decide who is going to drive your Big Data bus….

Author: Joseph Baird



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