Big Data is Causing Companies to Rethink Their Data Strategies

The title of her keynote presentation for the upcoming Data Summit is humorous, however, according to Anne Buff, Thought Leader, SAS Best Practices at SAS Institute, the need to find ways to exploit big data, achieve data monetization, and leverage the opportunities of data’s ROI, is no joke. In fact, their future success depends on it.

Buff will deliver her keynote, “Oh, Shift! How Big Data Is Calling for an Enterprise Data Rethink,” at Data Summit taking place May 12-14.

Big data is causing organizations to rethink their data strategies, notes Buff. They will need to make shifts in their organizations in several areas.

Big Data Requires Shifts in People, Priorities and Processes

First, there is the shift that is needed in terms of people - both on the technical side and the business side.  “There is a huge skills gap that we are going to see, and leadership needs to be much more data-savvy and data-driven in their own thinking,” observed Buff.

Citing a McKinsey report, Buff said that by 2018, the U.S. alone will face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytic training in statistics or machine learning. On the business side as well, there will be a shortage of another 1.5 million people with the managerial and quantitative skills to be able to frame and interpret analysis effectively enough to base decisions on the data. To address that shortfall in skills, companies will need to adopt products that can help fill the gap.

Moreover, with technical skills in short supply and many existing disparate systems, there is the fact that “nobody wants to let go of their legacy systems,” said Buff. “That is one of the big conversations that big data brings – because big data by itself is nothing. It is how do we integrate it with the data that we have to go forward because we are not going to give up our traditional data by any stretch of the imagination.”

In addition, organizational culture as a whole is going to need to shift. The idea that certain departments or organizations "own" certain types of data – such as marketing owning customer data - has to be eliminated in order overcome data silos. Those kinds of things are going to have to go away in order for big data to really work within organizations, but there will also have to be compelling reasons or value propositions for consumers, suppliers and partners to share data, said Buff.  This is because “our data is valuable but when combined with someone else’s data, it becomes more valuable, but nobody is going to do that unless it is win-win.”

And, all that sharing creates even more data, resulting in the need for a process shift in terms of decision-making, she noted. Now, more than ever, companies need to ask themselves what their business initiatives are. One of the big causes of project failures are that people are getting caught up in the big data hype and start projects with no clear business purpose. Then, if there is a good reason for big data intiative, there has to be willingness to implement changes in business processes, she adds.

Companies Need to Define How They Will Use Big Data

“Big data is still in its early stages. A lot of that is because people don’t quite know what they are going to do with it yet,” said Buff. They know what it is, they know where they can get it but they have not quite figured out what they are going to do with it. “Right now one of the biggest things is just trying to define what big data means to an organization.”

Buff will expand on the shifts in people, priorities, and processes required for organizations to capitalize on big data in her keynote at the Data Summit, which takes place at the New York Hilton Midtown, May 12-14. For more information and to register, go to