How to explain the business value of Hadoop to the C-suite

For all the hype surrounding big data, the vast majority of organisations have hardly made any progress when it comes to exploiting it for its business benefits. To illustrate the point, Gartner estimates that 85% of Fortune 500 companies are as yet unable to exploit big data for competitive advantage.

Frustratingly, Apache Hadoop, the key tool required to achieve this, is already there and ready to be exploited. Could it be that IT hasn’t sold Hadoop very well to the C-suite on the business value of investing more heavily in it?

It’s important to consider the question, ‘What is it that the C-suite really cares about?’ Ultimately, it boils down to what will drive results in the business – where the increases are in both the bottom and the top line.

>See also: Hadoop is anything but anaemic – it’s an accelerating market

They’ll ask, ‘Are the investments already made in the organisation delivering all the results they can?’ Therefore, taking a proposal to them along the lines of ‘Hadoop will let us handle extremely high volumes of structured and unstructured data across thousands of our clusters’ is unlikely to be met with huge enthusiasm, because what does that actually mean?

An alternative approach

While approaches will differ by industry, the top-line premise is to articulate the business value of the technology or solution you are looking to secure funding and support for.

Articulate what impact the deployment of Hadoop could have in a way that leads to a boost in revenue or drives better profitability, particularly when to comes to improvements in operational efficiency. Put simply, you need to be talking business.

It’s therefore important to position the argument in a way that explains how it can be possible to make better use of the data the company has already spent money collecting.

They won’t be interested in the specifics, but it’s important that they understand all data is not created equal, and much of it is not of a type that traditional systems like RDBMS can process.

Paint a picture for them that shows all the sources data is coming into the organisation from – data from sensors, supply chain, emails, video, social media, etc.

This data holds some of the most useful insights into customer behaviour, market trends, and other vital business information.

Paired with advanced analytics, Hadoop can exploit the potential of such data and provide business analysts with the platform they need to create real competitive advantage.

More useful customer insight

Every B2B and B2C company invests heavily in its website to attract and retain visitors. But the reality is, most would probably 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 – the information site visitors leave behind when they visit a website – with data from other sources, like customer databases, to provide far more accurate real-time customer behaviour information.

Clickstream data is another data source that falls into the ‘not easily analysed by traditional systems’ category. Hadoop fashions and organises this data in a way that even entry-level business analysts can use to provide in-depth, actionable reports.

Recovering from security breaches

Company execs will be only too aware of the challenges to data security in a world where every major breach is front page news. And they know all too well the negative correlation between system downtime and financial loss.

Because it can handle ultra-high data volumes from multiple network sources, Hadoop will help IT understand the nature of an attack, fix the vulnerable parts of the network, and get all systems up and running quicker, while future-proofing against similar attacks.

A lot of this potential is down to the peerless way Hadoop handles information from data logs, but those are the kind of specifics you should probably avoid – cut the jargon wherever possible.

Optimising sensor data, saving money

Many industries are increasing use of sensors to collect information on asset performance in everything from articulated trucks to medical diagnostic equipment, smart metres and farm equipment – the number of use cases is staggering and will only grow as the Internet of Things evolves.

As these data sources proliferate, traditional systems can only efficiently process a small fraction of the information they receive. Hadoop is well suited to being the platform for traditional BI tools to generate action-oriented reporting and insight.

>See also: 5 ways to get more out of Hadoop

This makes it possible to use 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.

Selling Hadoop to the C-suite is about temporarily suspending the usual thought processes that drives most IT decision making. Put yourself in their shoes, and consider what motivates them to take action.

Positing an investment in Hadoop in terms of business outcomes or impact on the top or bottom line, where you can clearly demonstrate measurable financial and competitive results, will produce far better results than justifications built largely around big data rhetoric.

Sourced from Jim Scott, director, enterprise strategy and architecture, MapR Technologies

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...