How to develop your big data game plan

by Vlad Flamind | June 2015

To start big data projects on the right track, key decision makers need to engage in strategic discussions at an early stage and formulate a clear game-plan. This article outlines a highly effective method to kick-start the process.



Quick view:


• An extremely effective tool, however a challenging endeavour for companies given its complexity, big data initiatives require careful planning.

• Management round tables are an effective way to kick-start a big data initiative, centred around three key topics of conversation: company case studies, requirements of the project and how the project aligns with the company's goals, priorities and competencies.

• After discussions on the company's ambitions, current capabilities and barriers to big data adoption, executives will gain greater visibility of the role that big data can play in their organisation and how they should proceed to reach their objectives.



Developing a big data initiative is a challenging endeavour for most managers because of the complexity and novelty of the domain. Executive teams must develop cross-functional capabilities, deal with new technologies and devise strategies in an area with few familiar precedents to draw upon. To start big data projects on the right track, key decision makers need to engage in strategic discussions at an early stage and formulate a clear game-plan.


How should the conversation take place?


The most effective way for decision-makers to initiate discussions and shape their big data game-plan is to organise management roundtables.


Three aspects of a big data game plan that should be discussed in leadership roundtables


These sessions should bring together the expertise and viewpoints of the stakeholders that will participate in building and using big data capabilities. In most cases, executives from key departments such as I.T., marketing and operations should take part in the conversation because big data is likely to impact the organisation across these functional boundaries. Because big data is often unfamiliar to top-executives, external experts with relevant expertise in technology, big data analytics and strategic management can be asked to join the round tables. They can play a crucial role in helping executives broaden their understanding and in guiding the discussion in the right direction.


What topics should be explored?


In our experience, round tables are most productive when they are organised around three fundamental topics of conversation.


1. Big data case studies: How have other businesses used big data?

Contributors with extensive knowledge of how big data has been used by pioneers around the world must lead this part of the conversation. Their objective should be twofold: help executives visualise the possible applications of big data and highlight the key factors in other companies’ successes and failures.


2. Big data capabilities: What are the big data skills and technologies?

In this part of the discussion, technical experts should help other participants visualise what is required to make different big data projects work. Their focus should be to highlight available options in terms of I.T. infrastructure and describe possible data science team set-ups. Their contribution should help decision-makers evaluate the complexity and cost of big data projects under different scenarios and opportunities.


3. Strategic situation: What is our business situation?

While the two other talking points should stimulate blue-sky thinking, this part of the conversation must be carried-out with feet firmly on the ground. Here, management experts should take the driving seat to ensure that the various big data options discussed are both feasible and attractive. Their focus should be to place the company’s goals, priorities and competencies at the centre of the discussion. The objective of the participants should be to think strategically to narrow down the most interesting opportunities.


How will the game-plan take shape?


When participants come prepared with relevant research and analysis on their topic of expertise, the roundtables can generate the most productive discussions. After a number of sessions a game-plan will start to take shape around three fundamental elements:


1. The company’s ambitions: What does the organisation expect from big data in the short and longer term? Here decision makers determine how data-driven insights can improve both their bottom line and their competitive position. At this stage, they are not required to put an exact rupee amount on their objectives but only to determine the mechanism through which insights will generate value. During the discussion, realistic ambitions will start to take shape as executives assess their ideas in light of their company’s strategic situation and the performance achieved by benchmarked companies.


2. The key success factors: What will be the key success factors and barriers to adoption and how will they be addressed? Answers to these questions should prepare executives to face the important challenges that will arise in implementing a big data initiative. Setting-up an effective I.T. infrastructure while technologies are continually shifting, or getting the right talent in a job market where data scientists are scarce, are both good illustrations. A game-plan for success can be shaped by analysing case studies in depth to outline the specific capabilities that put certain big data pioneers at the top.


3. The capabilities to develop: What skills and assets will need to be acquired to achieve the company’s goals? The big data phenomenon is both recent and rapidly evolving. For this reason, businesses need to catch-up with emerging skills and technologies while striving to build an enduring edge. Executives can make a plan for capability development by matching the recommendations from big data experts to their current strategic situation. For this, they must understand the capabilities required for different big data opportunities, and compare them with their current strengths, their available resources, and their priorities.


In conclusion, management roundtables focused on three critical conversation topics are the most effective way for decision-makers to shape their company’s big data game-plan. After a number of sessions executives will gain greater visibility of the role that big data can play in their organisation and how they should proceed to reach their objectives.

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