Big Data Success Essentials: Tech, People, and Process

While there is an increasing focus on the role of people alongside technology in analytics initiatives, let's not forget that process -- business rules -- play an important role in big data success.

James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer

October 13, 2017

3 Min Read
Image: Pixabay/geralt

There's been plenty of talk in recent months about why we can't overlook the role of people in an analytics initiative. Conference speakers, software providers, and bloggers have looked beyond the software and the data to hammer home the importance of good analytics professionals and how systems have to get business people to appreciate data.

It's great how thought leaders are recognizing that all the world's complex circuitry, big data, and brilliant algorithms are as useful as a bucket of mud if people -- business leaders or customers -- can't benefit from the what the data shows.

However, it's not just people that have been forgotten far too often. Let's not lose sight of the importance of the amorphous blob that spreads through every organization: process.

Process can be our friend. When it gets in our way, it's our foe. Done right, it's what delivers data to where it's needed. In some cases the need for process is obvious, as it is in an Internet of Things implementation.

Take the now-common example of an IoT application that monitors the status and maintenance requirements of a remote piece of machinery. If the app identifies a potential maintenance need it issues a yellow alert. If the remote machine goes down, the alert goes out as red. The role of process: It identifies who should be made aware of the alert and what action has to be taken. Without process, all you have are pretty little lights, and a dead machine.

The need for process is less apparent in something like a sales analysis. The system design has to factor in who gets which reports, and also when issues have to get escalated. So, when sales in Region 5 are stable or growing, weekly reports may only need to go to the regional representatives and managers. But when the sales figures -- good or bad -- pass certain thresholds alerts go to those higher in the corporate food chain. Deciding who gets what and when, and perhaps what they should do, is all part of process.

All of us have heard of examples where data died on a spreadsheet because it didn't get to the right people, or because nobody ever told those people what to do with it. Think of poor machine that crashed because the maintenance alert never got to the maintenance worker. I remember one case that was cited some months ago where customer service app highlighted "at risk" customers, but nobody told the agents in the field.

We've also heard of the failures where a department head brought in an analytics professional to gather data without knowing what type of problem they hoped to solve. That's a process failure, and likely leads to a people failure. Equally bad is when that department head neglects to let others in the group or in other relevant groups know that they have a wealth of data. It may be intentional or it may be simple neglect, but the result is the evil data silo.

Process can't simply be an afterthought. It has to be built in from the start, from the "let's see what the data says about..." stage. Then it has to adapt as the analytics team and the business leaders learn. Think of that process as being iterative or organic, evolving as new data emerges, spawning new uses.

Having terabytes of data and amazing technology might seem nice, but it's meaningless if you don't put the data to work. We have good people. Process is about getting that data into their hands so they can take appropriate action.

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About the Author(s)

James M. Connolly

Contributing Editor and Writer

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced freelance technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than three decades. He was previously editorial director of InformationWeek and Network Computing, where he oversaw the day-to-day planning and editing on the sites. He has written about enterprise computing, data analytics, the PC revolution, the evolution of the Internet, networking, IT management, and the ongoing shift to cloud-based services and mobility. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. He has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through such publications as Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups at MassHighTech.

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