Selling Hadoop to the C-Suite: It’s all about business value

With all the talk about Big Data, most organizations are barely out of the starting blocks when it comes to exploiting it for business benefit. Gartner estimates that 85% of Fortune 500 companies are yet unable to exploit Big Data for competitive advantage. The real shame is that the key tool for doing so – Hadoop - is largely in place and ready for prime time. Could it be that IT hasn’t done a good sell-job to C-suite execs of the business value of investing more heavily in Hadoop?

First ask yourself, ‘What do C-suite execs care about?’ They care most about what will drive increases in both bottom and top line results. They care about better leveraging investments they’ve already made. So if you are ‘selling’ Hadoop with a sales pitch like, ‘it will let us handle extremely high volumes of structured and unstructured data across thousands of our clusters’, you might not get too far.

So what will work better? Here are a few suggestions below, some of which are industry or market-specific. But in general, the idea is to articulate the business value of the technology or solution for which you seek funding and support. Talk about new outcomes that have the potential to boost revenue or cut costs to drive better profitability. Talk about improvements to operational efficiency, another profit driver. In other words, talk business.

We’ll make use of a lot more data we already paid to collect. Without boring them with details, explain that all data is not created equal, and that most data today is not of a type that traditional systems can process - data from emails, video, and social media data. These data hold insights into customer behavior, market trends, and other vital business information. Paired with advanced analytics, Hadoop will unholster the potential of these data and provide business analysts with the tools to fashion real competitive advantage.

We’ll gain far more value from the tidal volumes of clickstream data we gather. Here, you’re talking about getting more from investments the bosses have already made. Every B-to-B and B-to-C company invests heavily in its website(s) to attract and retain visitors. But today, most companies would admit they lack trustworthy insights into just how well these sites meet the needs of customers, employees, and partners. With Hadoop, you’ll be able to unite clickstream data with data from other sources, like your customer databases, to provide far more accurate real-time information on customer behavior. Also clickstream data falls into that category of data that is not easily analyzed by traditional systems. Hadoop fashions and organizes this data in a way that even entry-level business analysts can use to provide in-depth, actionable reports.

Hadoop will help us recover more quickly if we have a data security breach. All executives are keenly aware of the treachery inherent in the data security environment today. And they know how system downtime equates to financial loss. Owing to its ability to handle ultra-high data volumes from multiple network sources, Hadoop will more quickly help IT understand the nature of an attack; fix the vulnerable parts of the network; and get all systems up and running while future-proofing against similar attacks. A lot of this potential is owing to the peerless way Hadoop handles information from data logs, but they don’t have to know those gory details.

We’ll make better use of sensor data to save money. Many industries have deployed a fast-growing number and variety of sensors to collect information on performance in everything from trailer trucks to oil wells to medical diagnostic equipment to electric meters to farm equipment. Traditional systems can efficiently process only a small fraction of this data. With Hadoop, the company will far more easily generate action-oriented reports and insights based on these data for practical purposes like saving fuel costs, limiting spoilage of perishable goods, enabling proactive maintenance to avoid wholesale field equipment replacement, and many other money-saving functions.

Thus to a certain extent, selling Hadoop to C-suite executives means temporarily suspending the usual thought processes that drive most IT decision making. In place of these, you’ll need to be mindful of what motivates these managers to take action. Framing IT investments in Hadoop in terms of business outcomes or impact on the top or bottom line will produce far better results than justifications built largely around Big Data rationale.

Also, the Web is loaded with examples of forward-leaning organizations that already have leveraged Hadoop as a platform that has produced measurable financial and competitive results. Often these case studies are written in clear business language that any manager can understand, as are the case studies here. Use them to further bolster your efforts at getting solid C-suite backing for your Hadoop plans.

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