"Today, most enterprises have disparate, siloed systems for payroll, for customer management, for marketing," says Anjul Bhambhri, IBM's vice president of big-data products. "CIOs really need to have a strategy in place for bringing these disparate, siloed systems together and building a system of systems. You want to be asking questions that flow across all these systems to get answers."
Bone up on the technology
The big-data world comes with a long list of new acronyms and technologies that have likely never graced a CIO's radar screen.
Open-source tools are getting most of the attention; technologies like Hadoop, MapReduce, and NoSQL are being credited with helping Web-based giants like Google and Facebook churn through their reservoirs of big data. Many of these technologies, while now available in commercial forms, are still fairly immature and require people with very specific skills.
Other technologies that are important to the big-data world include in-database analytics, columnar databases, and data warehouse appliances.
IT managers and their staffs will need to understand these new tools to ensure that they'll be able to make well-informed big-data decisions.
Prepare your staff
Whether they need Hadoop experts or data scientists, most IT organizations are sorely lacking the talent necessary to take the next steps with big data. Analytic skills are perhaps the most crucial, and that's the area where most IT staffs have the biggest gaps.
McKinsey projects that in the U.S. alone, there will be a need by 2018 for 140,000 to 190,000 additional experts in statistical methods and data-analysis technologies. The job titles that will be in demand will include the widely hyped emerging role of data scientist.
In addition, McKinsey anticipates a need on either the business or tech side of the house for another 1.5 million data-literate managers who have formal training in predictive analytics and statistics.
For some companies, especially those in less populated areas, staffing will likely be one of the more challenging aspects of a big-data initiative. "[Big data] definitely requires a different mindset and skills in a host of areas," says Rick Cowan, CIO at True Textiles, a Guilford, Maine-based contract manufacturer of interior fabrics for the commercial market.
"As a medium-sized business, it's been a challenge to be able to get staff and keep them up to speed with the ever-changing environment," says Cowan. To address the need, he has begun to retrain programmers and database analysts to get them up to speed on advanced analytics.
IT department heads will have to do some transforming of their own to excel in this brave new world. While the best tech leaders of the past have been part information librarian and part infrastructure engineer, the IT managers of the future will be a combination of data scientist and business process engineer, says Gartner's Beyer.
"CIOs have been used to managing infrastructure based on a given instruction set from the business, as opposed to a CIO that is able to identify the opportunity and therefore push towards innovative use of information," he explains. "That's the transformation that needs to happen."