April 25, 2014

The war for talent has shifted to a new terrain. Cloud computing and Big Data analytics have created demand for innovative professionals who not only understand the technology but, even more to the point, know how to harness its power to guide business decisions and accelerate business strategies.

Big Data analytics are increasingly becoming a critical component of companies’ go-to-market strategies—targeted marketing, customer retention, and other customer-centric services. Thus, the question is not if businesses are using cloud-enabled tools, but how they are using them. With ready access to mega data centers and the capability to leverage the power of cloud computing for Big Data, companies large and small are competing on what is increasingly a level playing field. Moreover, broad access to cloud computing today has made the technology a “commodity”; therefore, simply having access to Big Data is not enough. The real differentiation occurs as companies determine what to do with Big Data, and how the depth and breadth of such information can and should inform business decisions, virtually in real-time.

This next generation of concerns is creating intense demand for professionals who possess the demonstrated ability to drive new business initiatives and link enterprise data knowledge to the core business. As Accenture observed, IT has moved from a “back-office technical function to a service-oriented and strategic business resource,” which requires a different set of skills that may exceed the capabilities of some CIOs and other IT professionals.

Not getting it right is not an option. The cost to the company of a misalignment between IT demands and IT professionals and their leadership skills is huge. Therefore, finding the right talent with the right capabilities will become even more critical. As demand for talent grows, the employers that win will likely be those that can identify, attract, retain, and develop leadership to complement technical competence and skills.

Big Data and Go-To-Market Strategies

The Big Data market shift has been supported by the dramatic growth of cloud infrastructure with Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) providing a core platform to enable this transformation. “Computing power is now inexpensive and abundant, so as a raw material for DaaS, its availability has allowed services and data providers to make their offerings available in an open cloud-services environment,” said Gary Roberts, the new CIO of JDA Software. Roberts, who formerly was CIO of Oracle, added that DaaS has risen in popularity as its counterparts, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), are also becoming more ubiquitous.

“In almost all industries, disruptors are emerging, utilizing the power of cloud and Big Data to create business velocity and competitive advantage,” added Kim Stevenson, CIO at Intel. “Those companies that do not leverage the insights analytics can provide you about your operations and customers will be disrupted.

Case Study: Black Friday Delivers an Early Present for Data Analysts

Reaching customers in real time with the right products or services and at the right price happens at an ever-faster pace. Consider the experience of “Black Friday” 2012 when consumers spent more than $1 billion in U.S. retail stores in one day. On Cyber Monday another $1.5 billion was spent. It was a real retail bonanza and a rich opportunity for some well-known retailers that adjusted their offerings and pricing in real time in response to customer preferences.

This feat was accomplished by data analysts who processed consumer behavioral data around product decision making from data generated by web sites, smart phones, sensors, and tablet devices—all of which could be economically stored and analyzed, according to Ian Fyfe, CTO for Pentaho. Based on the data analyses, holiday promotions were tweaked virtually in real time to maximize consumer spending during a short window of opportunity. The biggest retail winners were those who strategically leveraged Big Data to optimize their cash intake during the holiday shopping period.

The Black Friday/Cyber Monday example shows the importance of doing more than just gathering the data; the power can only be leveraged when a company has the talent on board that can use data to inform and support business strategy decisions. Tapping those analytic capabilities is, essentially, a talent solution.

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Harnessing the power of Big Data is transforming other industries as well. In healthcare, one example is Kaiser Permanente, which uses cutting-edge technology tools to improve patient care and outcomes.

As Phil Fasano, CIO and Executive Vice President, of Kaiser Permanente observed recently, “…I can tell you, as we’re looking at the world of this space of healthcare and data, big data particularly, and the use of medical analytics—population care tools, chronic care management tools—[that] we’ve used them extensively at Kaiser Permanente. And the forecast I’d make… is that the healthcare industry is just in its infancy in both getting and using data, and then analyzing that data sufficiently, so that we can get all the learnings from it. I believe that the largest medical breakthroughs are truly ahead of us, and not behind us.”

Beyond the Cloud

The evolution started with the cloud—the technological innovations made possible through cloud computing and analytics of data gathered from a variety of sources. Having the technology firepower, however, is only the beginning. The issue, increasingly, is alignment—across the breadth of the IT platform and with the business strategy. This is a challenge for Fortune 500 companies as they implement cloud infrastructure, while smaller, nimbler players can respond quickly and adapt to emerging market trends and shifts in consumer preferences—and also surpass slower-moving technology firms. As we advise our clients, regardless of where they are—at the initial phase of implementation or the more advanced stages of business transformation by analyzing and using Big Data—the right talent must be in place every step of the way.


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