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The 3 Perils to Big Data Gold



In the gold rush of ’49 thousands flocked to California seeking gold, looking for a quick way to be rich.  Sadly, many devoted time, effort and resources and found “fools’ gold”.  That deceptive rock looks like the real thing, yet differs in some key ways.  “Fools’ gold” reflects light only at angles, it leaves behind a greenish-black residue when rubbed, has sharp edges and is harder than cooper.  Similarly, many are seeking riches in the Big data gold rush.  However, many are simply turning up with fools’ gold.  There are a few key reasons why many are not able to harvest these riches.  In the following paragraphs we will outline a paradigm that I call LAC (pronounced “Lack”), which outlines three areas that impede returns on Big Data.


Leadership Quotient

One of the major perils to Big Data is the leadership quotient.  By that I mean the skill level and effectiveness of the leaders.  The leadership style has a huge impact on the results derived from analytical projects.  There are anywhere from 5 – 8 leadership styles depending on the model chosen.  Each leadership style will use, interpret and share data differently.  However, it takes a specific type of leader to spearhead the rewards and perils of Big Data.  The leader must be a transformational one.  The transformational leader must be able to do a few things: 1) communicate clear path to victory, 2) Use information properly, 3) Cut through noise,  4) Inspire action.


Analytics over Strategy

As an extension of the last point, many leaders fail to integrate data with strategy.  Strategy is essentially “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim”.  The key word in that definition is plan.  Many organizations build these monolithic systems and processes with no strategy or system to quickly develop it.  This is a blunder that will lead to wasted resources.  It’s activity without purpose.  Before algorithms and analytics are developed each leader must determine the goal.  Also, investing in these huge systems is taxing beyond a financial perspective.  If leadership and employees don’t see quick wins they immediately deem the investment fruitless.  That can drain the morale of key players leading to a decrease in future performance and increased turnover.  People need to see a connection between work and results.  If a clear connection is not made, the task is deemed a failure.    


Culture Alignment

One commonly overlooked challenge to the benefits of any form of data, big or small, is culture.  Culture is a major component to every organization.  That dictates how things get done, typical patterns of interactions, norms and taboos.  For example, in every job interview the candidate is not only assessed on the skill set, required for a job, but a cultural fit as well.  If the organization is entrepreneurial and fast paced, it is likely to seek candidates with that mindset.  If the organization is highly collaborative with many cross functional teams, a “team-player” candidate will likely be chosen over an individual contributor.  The same goes with data.  Data must be a part of the culture.  It must be generated, analyzed, visualized, presented and shared often.  A culture that does not have that at its core will not reap benefits from Big Data.  The primary reason is that data were never a part of the culture. 


Big data is not the cure to every organizations woes.  Big data initiatives are a tremendous investment.  As in all other projects, initiatives if not deployed with the proper leadership, strategy and culture will result at nothing.  Make sure those things are in place before investing in more data.


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