Big Data Analytics: What Can You Learn from High Achievers?

Ann All

Updated · Mar 21, 2014

Retailers, more than many other businesses, seem poised to use Big Data analytics to their competitive advantage. Yet many of them are still struggling to leverage Big Data, according to new research from IDC Retail Insights that examined the maturity levels of 700 organizations in five key areas: technology, data, processes, organizational intent and people.

The study found that some 20 percent of respondents possess only ad hoc Big Data analytics (BDA) capabilities, while another 20 percent have optimized capabilities. The majority of respondents, 60 percent, are in the middle ground with fairly well managed capabilities, said Greg Girard, program director, Merchandising and Marketing Strategies and Retail Analytics and an author of the research.

Not surprisingly, the research found a strong level of correlation between BDA maturity and BDA success. It shows that retailers are falling into categories of Big Data haves and have-nots, Girard said, and should “create a sense of urgency” for those that lag behind their peers.  

As part of the research, IDC Retail Insights includes what it considers to be the top 10 traits of BDA high achievers. While four of the traits relate to people, the other four areas – technology, data, processes and organizational intent – are represented as well. Retailers must address all five areas and align them as much as possible, Girard said.

Big Data Governance and Staffing

“On the tech side, there is an urgency to create a balanced set of structured reporting tools plus predictive analytics and data mining, but that must be complemented by recruiting people with the right skills to develop them and putting the right processes in place for people throughout the organization to use them,” he said.

The shortage of qualified BDA professionals continues to be a problem, wrote Brad Brown, David Court and Tim McGuire, all directors for McKinsey & Company, in a piece on the McKinsey website. In particular, companies have a tough time finding pros the three men refer to as “translators.” These people possess skills that encompass IT and data, analytics and business decision making. “These translators can drive the design and execution of the overall data-analytics strategy while linking IT, analytics and business-unit teams,” they wrote.

One of the trickiest aspects of Big Data success is IDC Retail Insights' recommendation for a collaborative governance structure involving lines of business, IT and a separate analytics group. With Big Data initiatives, high achievers tend to put IT in a leadership role, a finding that runs counter to the common practice of having lines of business lead technology-driven business initiatives, Girard said.

IT is responsible for overall strategy, planning and application development, he said, with business responsible for evaluating the capabilities created by IT and the ultimate business outcomes. The analytics group handles management of data, content and analytics.

In their article the McKinsey directors suggest creating a Big Data center of excellence that includes data pros, business specialists and tool developers. “… At their best, centers are hotbeds of learning and innovation as teams share ideas on how to construct robust data sets, build powerful models, and translate them into valuable business tools.” They also recommend locating such centers in an area of the company where Big Data will have the most impact, whether it's IT or marketing.

Involving Everyone

High achievers are also far more likely than low achievers to foster a “top and bottom” Big Data analytics culture, Girard said, involving both high-level managers and customer-facing employees. He wrote in the report: “The top and bottom ends of organizational culture have a more significant impact on positive BDA outcomes than involvement of non-executive managers.”

Ensuring that employees who interact directly with customers are able to access insights derived from Big Data analysis is a key part of “the strategic retail imperative” for companies to shift their focus from products to customers, Girard said.


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  • Retail
  • Ann All
    Ann All

    Public relations, digital marketing, journalism, copywriting. I have done it all so I am able to communicate any information in a professional manner. Recent work includes creating compelling digital content, and applying SEO strategies to increase website performance. I am a skilled copy editor who can manage budgets and people.

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