The Big Deal about Big Data – How the Center of Excellence Should Respond
Since the beginning of the computer age, information technology has been – at its core – about providing data to the user faster than it could be humanly performed. There is no way the team of Apollo 11 astronauts could have landed on the moon were it not for the computer spitting out data on the Saturn rocket (despite having the total computing power of an old-time Nintendo 64 console). In today’s jargon, we’ve gone from ‘data‘ to ‘Big Data‘ in a matter of years. It is likely we will go from ‘Big Data‘ to ‘HUGE Data‘ and then maybe to ‘RIDICULOUS Data.’ Regardless of what happens, one question remains: What am I going to do with the data? The answer has two components – a process answer and a people answer. In Part 3 of the eight-part webcast series on the Center of Excellence, Doug Shuptar, a Principal Consultant with SAP’s Business Transformation Services Group, provided a perspective on five trends for the Center of Excellence and how to respond to them. One of the trends he discussed was how to prepare the CoE for making the most of the data being generated.
The process answer looks at the time it takes to act upon the data. The Big Data concept has altered the creation of data in four (4) key ways. First, the velocity of the data has increased dramatically. The speed at which data is generated has increased. Sensors record readings of industrial equipment every second (and sometimes more); recorders take measurements continuously. Each reader / measurement creates data. Second, the volume of data has also increased. Whether is it the readings mentioned above or unstructured data captured from customer feedback, there is more data being generated than once thought possible. Third, the variety of the data has also expanded. As an example, the data captured during the normal course of one’s day by personal fitness applications has opened up an entirely new type of data collected. Finally, the complexity of the data captured has never been greater. If you envision each of these items as one aspect heading out from the center of a circle, you can see the reason behind the explosion of data.
But how does this effect the process?
As the data collected grows and the speed at which it is captured increases, the time required to act on the data gets smaller. The useful life of the data gets shorter because soon there will be more data to takes its place. With the pace of business accelerating, these decisions need to be made more quickly. The chart below shows how decision cycles have shortened over the last few years for a variety of decisions. There is no doubt that processes need to adjust in order to make informed decisions in the time necessary.
The people answer about what to do with Big Data pertains to the skills necessary to make sense of the mountain of data and convert it to something actionable. It is one thing to create it; it is another thing to make it meaningful. It is critical for the Center of Excellence to develop and provide these skills and capabilities to is business customers. Mr. Shuptar touched on three things the Center of Excellence should do as it looks to provide these valuable services to its customers.
Develop the Higher-Level Analytical Skills
As discussed above, it is not just about processing data faster. The real value comes from digging into the details. Developing the deep analytical skills is important. It is not just about finding the golden nugget of insight in the mountain of data but it is also about knowing which part of the mountain to dig into. In the months and years ahead, there will be a greater need for:
- Business Analysts – to understand what information should be captured. It does not make a lot of sense to capture everything (the ‘just-in-case’ method of data capture). It makes more sense to capture specific data because what is going to be done with it. Understanding the information needs of the business is key.
- Data Analyst – to use the data to better serve the customer and to use the data to better focus activities, actions, and effort for the consumption of the data. For these roles, it is not about creating slick dashboards or reports. It is critical to create these items to provide actionable information. The awesome-looking dashboard is useless if it doesn’t allow the user to do something with it.
- Data Scientist – to understand causal relationships in the data when it might not be obvious. These roles look for statistical relationships between disparate data elements. These relationships can then be used to create insights that would not be obvious in a casual review of the volume of data.
Emphasize Data Governance
Data must be recognized as an asset of the organization. When one company captures specific data, creates actionable information and uses the insights to gain an edge in the marketplace, the data is truly an asset. The same concept applies to all organizations. Data is an asset that needs to be managed, protected, guarded, utilized, and prioritized. It need to be ‘governed.’
It is important to establish a data governance framework within the Center of Excellence and the business. This framework must include clear boundaries of decision-making around the data as well as define unambiguous roles committed to the accuracy and integrity of the data. Data Stewards and Data Leads are common roles used in the Center of Excellence to assist in the governance of the data. In the best cases, this governance framework is led by the business but with significant participation from the Center of Excellence.
Data Quality is Everyone’s Responsibility
Many years ago, an automotive manufacturer used the slogan “Quality is Job 1.” Most manufacturing companies have something to the effect of “Quality is Everyone’s Responsibility.” The same theme applies to data. It is important for everyone in the organization to understand the need for quality data. In light of the topics discussed, speed of data, volume of data, complexity of data, and the decisions to be made with the data, quality is critical. While it is easy to say this and very few would disagree, the reality is that data quality often gets a shrug of the shoulders. Oftentimes, it is easier to comment on the poor data quality rather than create the culture that demands quality.
This aspect should be addressed through enterprise-wide data quality programs in which the Center of Excellence plays a significant role. Similar to the data governance aspect, the Data Steward and the Data Lead roles are very important. Where done best, these roles are full-time FTE’s focusing on these activities. Although quality is everyone’s responsibility, these roles take quality to the next level.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic Part 6 of the eight-part series is scheduled for Thursday, April 07 at 12:00 Noon EST. Steve Wroblewski from SAP’s IT Planning and Operations Group will discuss “Measuring and Improving your Center of Excellence Using the SAP CoE Benchmarking Survey”
If you have any questions regarding this webcast, please contact me at email@example.com.