Applying Parenting Skills to Big Data: Focus on Outcomes and Set Boundaries
I feel like I’ve spent much of my adult life “coaching” people in some form or another, both personally as well as professionally. In one such conversation with a customer senior executive, I found myself struggling to explain some of the things I thought they needed to do to make their big data and data science program successful. In that moment, it occurred to me that there are many helpful parallels between big data projects and parenting – a topic that many of us can relate to!
Yes, I know on the face of it that sounds rather mad, but bear with me on this one! Over the course of the next few blogs I plan to touch on the following topics:
- Long term greedy – focus on outcomes and make the right long term investments to get there
- Governance – too much and too little will stifle progress
- Tools to thrive and learn – let the situation and the person dictate their discovery tools
- A safe place to play – you can expect things to get broken so plan accordingly
- Speed counts – it’s the time from start to finish that matters, not just one leg of the race
- Valued friendships – compliment your solution and fill gaps with tried and tested partners
- Lessons learned – benefit from those who have gone before you
So, let’s get to it!
Focus on Outcomes
In my family, we have always tried to encourage our kids to adopt an approach of being “long term greedy”. To me that means staying in it, whatever ‘it’ is, if it helps you achieve your longer term goal – even if you’re tempted to bail out sooner. Say for example, you stay in a job despite frequent calls from recruiters because you believe long term it will provide the foundation of experience you need to open better doors later. Long term greedy is about investing upfront in the foundational pieces that will inevitably lead to longer term outcomes and success.
So what does long term greedy look like from a business point of view in relation to big data and analytics?
Well, that depends on who you are.
If you’re the CEO of a bank, you’re focused on outcomes such as cost income ratios and return on assets employed, while the CEO in a retailer is focused on like-for-like sales and margin density rates. Every CEO knows they need to invest to grow top line measures in their business; and data has increasingly been seen as a critical area of investment with the potential to differentiate and drive competitive advantage.
The question though is what you should be investing in to achieve the desired outcomes. I’m going to suggest that just investing in a data lake is not the right thing to do. Data in of itself creates zero value for the business. We create value by first Discovering something about the data that is of value to the business and then applying it in an operational context to Monetize it. We should invest in the things that help to drive an increase in the rate at which we can churn through Discovery backlogs as well as the speed these can be implemented into operational systems. A data lake may of course be an important part of what’s needed to get there but it’s not the outcome.
In fact, in many forward-looking companies the role of Chief Data Officer is continuing to evolve. Rather than just being a custodian and gatekeeper for data, they’ve become more of a Chief Data Monetization Officer – focused on building systems, processes and people that help drive value from the data. These are longer term investments, not just costs that have to be borne by the business.
Set the Right Boundaries
I’ve also learned as a parent that getting governance right is key to success in the long term. Too much governance, too tight a control and your kids won’t be able to go out and explore. They won’t have a chance to feel uncomfortable and know that’s OK. If you’re not careful, they won’t want to stray more than a foot from your side and that’s going to get old very fast.
On the other hand, we all know that kids need boundaries within which to operate. They need to understand what those boundaries are for their own safety and well-being, as well as others.
The same is true when it comes to data. Too much governance and nobody can get access to the data let alone use it. Too little and you find data duplicated all over the place. The net result is that infrastructure, license and support costs spiral out of control along with the data and before you know it, you end up with a data swamp of questionable economic value and a long tail of costs for the business.
Navigating Your Big Data Journey
At Dell EMC, we offer a comprehensive portfolio of Big Data & IoT Consulting services from big data strategy through big data implementation, and ongoing optimization to help our customers accelerate the time to value of their analytics initiatives and maximize their investments. We also help organizations bridge the gap of people, process, and technology needed to realize transformational business outcomes, including defining a strategy and establishing governance.
In my next blog, I’ll discuss how the tools that help you learn and explore, along with having a safe place to play applies to enterprise big data success, for your data scientists in particular.
Stay tuned and happy parenting!