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Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 2.12.57 PM.pngTo get started with big data analytics, think small. Pick one problem to solve, and build an analytics solution for it.  What kind of problem?  One that leverages your two I’s: impact and influence. Picking a project with the potential to have a big impact, and getting the right people talking about it is the best way to build an appetite for analytics.

I’ve seen this work myself, in the sales organization at SAP.  We are very much a sales driven company, and we use our own solutions.  We salespeople spend most of our day in our CRM, our customer relationship management solution, and we also used to spend a fair amount of time in Excel.

The Excel way

The way we used to do it, the sales leaders would take all the deal data from the CRM, dump it into Excel and then add our own commentary:  “This deal isn’t going to happen.  This one is going to happen.  This one is the wrong amount. Ignore that deal, and this deal that’s slated for next quarter is coming in sooner.”

Sales people were entering this information into the CRM too, but sales managers for large territories needed Excel to aggregate and visualize role or territory or rep-specific information. For me, for example, that might be my top 20 deals across the territory. It was a role-specific visualization from data that was in the CRM, but the only way to pull it together and work with it was to put it into Excel.  The problem was, then we had this all this analysis that we could never tie back to the core system.

Every week we would have a forecast call to go over this analysis.  About three and a half years ago, at the conclusion of one such call, Rob Enslin, then head of sales for North America, got in the elevator with some of the sales managers who had been on the call and asked one of them about a particular deal.

The sales manager didn’t have the details, so he did what every sales manager at that time did– he stepped out of the elevator and called the account executive to get the information he needed to answer Rob’s question.

A faster answer

It was the usual game of telephone: He calls, the rep isn’t there, and he eventually gets the answer and puts it in an email to Rob.  But this time, by the time the answer gets back to Rob, Rob says, “Nope, I already have the answer to that question.  I’m on to the next one.”

At that time, Rob was carrying an iPad with one of our analytics products called BusinessObjects Explorer on it. Explorer was taking all of the data from the CRM and creating visualizations from our data—anything Rob wanted to know, he could configure and add to his dashboard.  This is what we call Self-Service Business Intelligence.

From that moment on, Rob said, “No more Excel spreadsheets.  We spend all this time entering information into the CRM, and that is our system of record.  We are going to live and die by it.”

For me as a sales leader, the introduction of BusinessObjects Explorer on a mobile device had an immediate impact. It quickly and easily gave me the visualization that I needed, and more.  Whenever a rep or another manager asked a question I didn’t have the answer to, I could drill down and find it, just like Rob did.  And because it was on a mobile device, I could find those answers and make decisions in the critical moment of engagement.

From there on out, rather than being dependent on the latest phone call, the entire sales organization could get up to the minute visualizations any time they wanted to.  Everybody could to see, ask questions and understand the big picture. It had a big impact on our whole constituency.

The word about this got out pretty quickly: Rob Enslin, president of sales in North America, has got an iPad. On that iPad he put one of our BusinessObjects solutions called Explorer, and he can get forecast and pipeline information from his iPad.

The influence spreads

You just have to imagine every other big ego in the company is thinking, not only does he have this cool iPad to check his email and browse, he also has this cool business application so that wherever he is, he can monitor business activity and get answers to the questions he has.  He doesn’t have to wait to go back to the hotel to get connected.

The influence of that was felt all over SAP.  It became rolling thunder and now we have over 20,000 iPads in use in the company, which is a huge deployment. But it all began as solution to a very specific problem for one sales leader.  It had a big impact on a big influencer and became a foundational piece of our internal analytics journey. We have now moved to the next step, and we are beginning to use our predictive analytics solution, InfiniteInsight, to help us improve sales forecast accuracy .

You can do the same thing in your company. It can be difficult to know where to start. There’s an overwhelming amount of data available to businesses today, from a variety of internal and external sources, that could be measured and analyzed.  Think about the questions and problems your business has.  Which ones, if answered, could have a real impact on the way you do business?

Be specific.  No matter where you sit—IT, Finance, or the business–you can’t just say, we need real time analytics. It’s too abstract. You need to ask specific questions, for example, “What if we could tell when our most loyal consumers are in the store so that while they’re there, we can offer them, on their mobile device, a discount if they spend a certain amount or perform a certain action?”  For a retailer, that could get the wheels turning about possible analytics projects.  Find those high-impact questions for your business.

Then look at who the influencers are in your business.  Which of your questions, if answered, could make a difference for a key influencer? Delivering high-impact big data analytics to one or more internal influencers who will tout the results is one of the best ways to leverage your effort solving a single problem into the cornerstone of a company-wide culture of analytics.

This article previously appeared on KurtBilafer.com.

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