How to Build an IT bridge to ‘Big Data’ and how the Cloud can help

Mike Wasserman

by Mike Wasserman

Having spent the past 15+ years working with software solutions for enterprise companies in multiple verticals, I’m often surprised that the focus on a new requirement within an organization is still mainly based entirely on the vendor and the functionality of the tool. In reality, parity exists in many technology solutions, especially at the most basic level of deployment functionality.  This may work for some IT projects, but in general most companies are shifting away from pure technology plays and are seeking solutions that help solve business problems and focus on service delivery.  This couldn’t be more important in the Big Data and Analytics space.

Often one assumes it is in the best interest of most organizations to select the simplest solution at the lowest cost since the odds of recognizing the most compelling features of a solution are likely to never be realized.  However, in the case of Business Intelligence and Big Data solutions, it may be time to demand more for business users and the shareholders who gain the most from highly functional analytics platforms.

Whether it's health analytics, financial analytics, ERP data or case management, pretty much all data represents an opportunity to add shareholder and business value to the organization. Highly functioning analytic solutions allow business users to answer their own questions on data resulting in the opportunity to increase market share, decrease cost, and improve a company’s balance sheet.

I was talking with a senior Business Intelligence consultant recently and she mentioned many of the problematic implementations she is involved with happen when IT owns the platform but have little familiarity with the business users or data. IT without functional representation often turns into a collection of trade studies, proof of concepts, and alignment with pre-existing IT vendor preferences.  However, on the other end of the spectrum, the exclusion of IT, is no option either.  While a demo of a data discovery or dashboard solution may look fantastic, without ensuring the actual data the business users want to examine exists and understanding the level of modeling that is required, the likelihood of a Big Data project getting off the ground is minimal.

This may or may not be the case depending on the organization or the IT department but it certainly highlights an undeniable fact; the functional or business user and IT are often not in alignment when it comes to Business Intelligence and Big Data projects.

In our experience the majority of decision makers in the selection of Big Data or Business Intelligence solutions weigh heavily towards IT opposed to Business Users. This has as much to do with CFO’s, COO’s, CEO’s deflecting all technology decisions to IT and not being as closely engaged as they should be even with projects that impact them the most

Recently I was working with a Sovereign customer whose IT department took it upon themselves to evolve to delivering ‘Business Services’ vs. ‘IT capabilities’. This customer told me the hardest but most important transformation they made in their IT team was understanding their service are not what they do but what the users of the service are receiving.

So what does the Cloud have to do with it? Another reason many Business Intelligence and Big Data projects are not as successful as they could be is due to far too much time being spent focusing on IT tasks and not enough time analyzing data, business requirements, and generally gauging the consumers of the service for their needs. The simplest rationale for focusing on Cloud as a delivery platform for Business Intelligence is the removal of typical IT tasks such as hardware focus, equipment ordering and provisioning, vendor trade studies, etc.

At Sovereign we’ve recently partnered with Virtustream, as not only do they deliver cloud hosting capabilities, they also provide SAP Business Objects and HANA as a managed service. This includes the administrators to maintain the Business Objects or HANA environments as well as classic IT functions such as patching, access, backup, monitoring, etc. By eliminating these tasks, more time can be spent on strategic things such as identifying the business requirements and questions the business hopes to answer by moving forward with a Big Data or Business Intelligence initiative.

Below is an example of the savings we’ve seen during analytics projects delivered via the cloud.

Traditional IT or ‘Big Data/Business Intelligence Project’

The units below are representative of time spent during a typical Big Data project. The units can represent days, weeks or months. The objective is to represent a relative overview of time used per task and types of representative tasks.

Business and IT Partnership with Focus on Business/Data over Technology

The units below are representative of time spent during a Big Data project with an emphasis on end user and business requirements gathering and analysis. The units can represent days, weeks or months. The objective is to represent a relative overview of time used per task and type of task compared with a traditional technology focused project.

So how do you build this Big Data Bridge? If you are a business user, work closely with your IT counterparts to ensure the technology chosen will give you the data you need in a flexible, efficient and quick manner. This will help better guide IT in choosing the right solution.  If you are an IT user, partner with the functional users to find out what kind of information they are looking for and how they want to use and access that data.  Also consider Big Data in the Cloud options to help shorten implementation times and move away from infrastructure decisions to focus on more strategic items.