I’ve had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with over 50 CIO’s and IT executives over the last 6 months. Through these encounters, I have learned by my own trials as well as through the examples of my colleagues. For those CIOs that may not have already fully embraced a Big Data and Analytics strategy, here are my thoughts and reactions as to how a CIO should shape a strategy for the remainder of 2014.   Disclaimer:  I believe this strategy will not be static and will not remain holistically the same for 2105. We’ll update this article by the end of December to see how our predictions turned out and what’s in store for 2015.  

To begin, I have to put myself in the shoes of my CIO colleagues and have seen how strategy is created and then executed in today’s corporate IT world. These strategies remind me of Mike Tyson’s famous quote: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. In the world of data, reporting, analytics, business intelligence, and Big Data, the challenge is that all of the planning you would normally do on a large IT project doesn’t necessarily count. Do you plan?  Of course you do. It’s just different.

Through my experience over the last six months, the 3 Swim Lane Strategy has come up time and time again. Below is the description of what exactly the strategy is as well as how to efficiently execute it into your IT projects.

First and foremost, CIO’s are constantly being asked by their CEO’s “What is the IT strategy?” for Big Data and Analytics. I’ve heard this time and time again.   I believe it is almost the right question, but certainly NOT the right question. Rather than mentioning an “IT strategy”, the CEO should ask: “How do we increase short-term productivity via data in our business?” and “Where can we use data analytics as a tool to increase the quality and quantity of our revenue and margins?” Nowadays, it appears that a good amount of businesses are short of seasoned and knowledgeable workers.  The CEO should question, “How do I leverage data analytics to fill in the job gap by giving the existing personnel better information that may be timelier, more granular, more varied, and more accurate?”

I am not questioning that the CIO needs an IT strategy.  Rather, it’d be a better description to call it an “iterative strategy process”.  In this area of IT and business, the strategy develops over time and needs to have constant management and measurements from both IT and business perspectives.

It would be setting false expectations if a CIO labeled Big Data an IT project. By calling Big Data an IT Project you would be implying that it would have a beginning as well as an end just by pure definition. The truth is Big Data is a strategy to increase productivity in many areas of an enterprise.   Big Data has large implications that range from increasing the intimacy of “one view of a customer” to measuring the frying temperature of every deep fryer in a large fast food chain. Applications leveraging existing data are everywhere.  They are not in a formal relational database table every time.  Largely, they are in a mostly unstructured format.  Remember, keep saying “This is a Journey, not an event”.  To both the business sponsor and the IT professional, it’s not a classic waterfall project; it is very counter-intuitive and unnatural.

Here’s the second “swim lane”. Rather than shoe-horn the journey into your existing infrastructure, the CIO needs to consider whether to “outsource” the platform to the cloud. Whether you choose Amazon, Azure, Peak 10, or another platform is not the issue. Choosing a platform that minimizes the Internal IT staff support and maximizes the business value is the key. Use the old licenses and old platform tools? Maybe. Maybe not. I believe you need to look at starting over, with the business requirements fully in mind. One of my clients recently bought 250 web visualization tool user licenses. By buying the client-based tool, the business can immediate leverage their power users and IT support to catch-up on the backlog of information reporting requests. By providing immediate momentum in information reporting functionality, the business outcome leads to IT gaining credibility that they are engaged in for the success of the business.

To summarize our 2nd admittedly tactical swim lane:  There’s a lot of pent-up demand for more information, updated reports, and general data.   Do we wait until we can truly get the Big Data strategy and subsequent platform?    “What would John do?”  Two things.   Provide more reporting in both the old format and new format.  Even if you have to buy or renew software licenses and hire consultants, you still have to keep credibility of the present demand while looking long-term at a more sustainable environment.

The third “swim lane” is all about Technology. With the advent of Big Data, Cloud, and new database formats, there’s going to be a large requirement for new technology while continuing to upgrade the transport of that technology. Furthermore, a well thought through roadmap leveraged by key technology decisions accelerates the organization’s momentum for Big Data. A well-developed plan should show timeframe, functionality, service level (SLA), resources, and budget.  This “refresh” will have to be managed by a savvy PMO combining the new technology with a highly iterative project plan. A lot of project managers have harnessed themselves into the well-developed Waterfall Project. But, this is Big Data. This is not the traditional project:  signed off, fully detailed requirements followed by a discrete plan with detailed milestones with discrete deliverables. It’s more focused on Research and Development than Production.   In manufacturing terms, it’s a pilot plant. With the “Journey” in mind, it’s not a bad thing for Pilots to become full Production environments as long as we understand some of the potential rework that may come later on from this approach.

I hope the three swim lanes make sense. I have witnessed several CIOs leveraging this formula for both short-term and long-term survival and growth. To conclude, I hope that you start “swimming” for success!


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