Sep 30 2014

If Big Data Is the Wild West, CIOs Need to Play IT Sheriff

The growth of data analytics projects requires a steady, knowledgeable hand to ensure success and efficiency.

There’s plenty of uncertainty about the future role of the CIO. And there’s plenty of buzz about data analytics and Big Data, with several organizations seeking to add data scientists and chief data officers to their staff.

But the CIO shouldn’t be left out of the mix. The CIO’s role as a wrangler is essential to ensuring that these projects are useful and integrate smoothly with the rest of the organization’s IT.

Madeline Weiss, program director of the Society for Information Management’s Advanced Practices Council (APC), calls the explosion of data analytics projects within enterprise IT the “new Wild West.” That means CIOs need to dust off their cowboy boots and prepare to get their hands dirty with data analytics. Without their involvement, disaster could strike as it has in other organizations, as Weiss and co-author June Drewry write in an article for CIO.

Multiple uncoordinated experiments and campaigns can yield impressive learning, agility and profit. But they can also lead to unintended consequences. Knight Trading lost $440 million by launching the wrong version of its software when testing algorithms. Target identified a teenager's pregnancy through data analytics and sent her coupons for baby supplies—before she had told her parents, prompting an irate visit from the girl's father.

Some of the ways that CIOs can help make sense of the analytics sprawl that can come with these projects is by “establishing security practices, assessing risk, designing data-management policies, encouraging collaboration between data scientists and business leaders, and looking for opportunities to turn predictive analytics into new businesses or improve existing ones.”

Shane Schick, editor of CanadianCIO, recently wrote about a survey the magazine conducted among 35 Canadian CIOs. When asked what different skill sets will be required to handle Big Data projects, one CIO said, “Scientists know how to create and devise the method to get out the information, but they do not know the use cases, and that battle field experience can help define it and create the test to prove it.”

In other words, your organization’s data projects need the wisdom, strength and toughness that come with playing IT sheriff.