Why CEOs must lead big data initiatives

Any company that makes a sizable investment in big data analytics clearly feels like it’s of strategic importance to the company — but how important? Is it reasonable to assume that analytic efforts can be delegated to the chief information officer, chief analytic officer, or some other high-ranking officer in the company, or is this a job that’s only suited for the top seat: the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)?

When big data first hit the scene, it seemed natural to give the CIO a few dollars so he or she could play with it for a bit. With all the hype and buzz about big data, it was hard not to imagine there might be something there, but most of the world struggled with what big data was and what it meant for them. So, the logical thing to do was pass it over to the CIO — if anyone would know what big data was all about, that’s the person, right?

But that was then, and we’re much smarter today. Lessons learned over the years from the companies that have been successful with big data have taught us that a big investment in big data and analytics means it’s part of the corporate strategy, and the only person accountable for that is the CEO.

I’ve written about getting the right return on investment on big data and how important it is to tie big data investments into the corporate strategy. If this isn’t done properly, you run the great risk of squandering valuable time, money, and resources for little or no benefit. This is the most common mistake of the early big data pioneers.

Big data is the cart, and corporate strategy is the horse. You’d be remiss if you didn’t involve others like the CIO (who knows more about data lakes and machine learning?), but it’s the CEO who owns the corporate strategy.

All the time and money spent hiring and training data scientists, devising sophisticated dashboards and analytics, and standing up data lakes is for the purpose of supporting one or more strategic outcomes. And although it’s wise for the CEO to stay out of the gory details, it’s vitally important for the CEO be involved and understand how big data supports the company’s strategic outcomes — it’s the only way to effectively lead the organization to its intended vision.

The CEO is the top leader and has the ultimate responsibility for change efforts that incorporate big data analytics. First and foremost, the CEO must establish a vision of where the company is going, and that vision must clearly articulate the role big data and analytics play. If the CEO ignores or downplays big data in the company’s vision, adoption will be difficult, and it will be hard to keep employees motivated about a big data project. Motivation and inspiration is key as employees work their way to a more analytic future.

In most cases, becoming a more analytic company requires a transformation that can be frustrating and difficult. People who are comfortable trusting their instincts will be asked to trust their data instead.

Posted on 7wData.be.