How to Create the Business Case to Start With a Big Data Proof of Concept

March 10, 2014
ImageFor organisations small and large, local or multinational, developing a big data strategy is a difficult and time-consuming exercise. In fact, big data projects typically take 18 months to finish.

ImageFor organisations small and large, local or multinational, developing a big data strategy is a difficult and time-consuming exercise. In fact, big data projects typically take 18 months to finish. Developing the business case is only the beginning of such a long road, but nevertheless a very important one. Where do you start, what aspects are important to take into account, which departments should be involved, what will be the return on the required investment. All of these aspects should be involved in your big data business case. Let’s take a look what the best approach is in developing the Big Data business case.

Of course, it all starts with creating the awareness and describing the background and motivation to develop a Big Data strategy. While you may be very well aware of what Big Data is and what the possibilities of Big Data are, do not expect that everyone else within your organisation, including the decision-makers, are aware of this. Although 79% of the 10,700 IT professionals polled in an EMC research agreed that big data enhances decision-making and 58% believed that big data will create a competitive advantages, this does not mean that business leaders, with no interest in or knowledge about IT, have that same believe. In fact, for 15% of the organisations surveyed in a Gartner research, understanding what Big Data is, is still the priority. And though there are many benefits of Big Data, for each organisation and industry these are different. So, creating awareness with your business leaders and having them understand the potential that Big Data offers for your organisation is an important starting point of the business case.

Once the context is set, it is important to create the right objectives of the Proof of Concept. Especially when your organisation is starting for the first time with Big Data, these objectives are difficult to determine. However, with a Proof of Concept it is not all about financial objectives, but all the more about the learning experience for the organisation. Big Data requires a different way of working and a different culture, which is impossible to achieve from the beginning. It not only involves new hardware and software to use, but access to real-time insights in what’s happening within your organisation also requires a different approach by decision-makers and other employees within the company. Don’t forget that 55% of the big data projects fail, so setting these objectives should be done carefully. Over-confidence can backfire when the Proof of Concept does not achieve its set objectives and you cannot move ahead with more Big Data projects.

With clear objectives set it is important to determine the scope of the Proof of Concept. There is a reason why a Proof of Concept is called a Proof of Concept; it is to test the validity of your thoughts and whether it is the right way to move ahead. Making the Proof of Concept too big is a recipe for disaster. Keep it small in every possible aspect. In the startup-scene this is called a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, that should be developed as lean-as-possible. It does not have to be complete, but it should show the potential of a Big Data strategy for your organisation.

The final part of the business case is to determine the different stakeholders for the pilot project. As discussed earlier in the roadmap for a Big Data Strategy, it is important to create a multi-disciplinary team to develop a Big Data Proof of Concept. But the list of stakeholders should be bigger, because after the Proof of Concept phase more and more departments and managers/employees will have to get involved. So getting them involved and/or up-to-date during the Proof of Concept will help build understanding for the need of a Big Data Strategy in the long run.

Developing a Big Data Strategy is important for your organisation as we are living in exponential times where accelerated change is the only constant. My vision therefore is that if organisations do not start using Big Data in the coming years, there is a serious possibility that they will cease to exist in 10-15 years. Developing a business case for a Proof of Concept is a great way to start gaining an understanding of the potential Big Data has to offer for your organisation, so the earlier you start with it the better.