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Big Data: Who’s Leading the Charge?

Originally published January 9, 2014

Ask any vendor. How do you make a sale of new technology today? In case after case, the answer is: You sell to the business and avoid the IT department.

But turn back the clock twenty years, and it was the IT department where the decisions for purchase of new technology resided. So what happened? Why is it that today about the only thing that IT decides is which companies get to have maintenance revenue? All new purchases are out of the domain of IT. At best, IT is an advisor to business as to what new technology is being brought into the corporation.

This loss of budgetary control means loss of leadership in the corporation. Has the IT department become a department that merely rubber stamps the important decisions made elsewhere? How in the world did IT get into such a weak position of authority in the corporation?

Let’s look to where IT lost its credibility. Let’s start with data dictionary. With a data dictionary we could have a handle on the metadata that our corporation has. And that has to be a really good idea. Except that over and over, the group working on the data dictionary had no idea how the data dictionary related to the bottom line of the corporation. Or at least the data administrator could not articulate why and how control of corporate metadata related the bottom line of the corporation. Yet in many places, IT funded and spent large corporate resources on data dictionaries. When the business asked why the money was being spent on a data dictionary, IT simply could not tell them. When it came time to downsize or reorganize, the data dictionary organization was the first to be hit.

Next there was CASE (computer aided software engineering) technology. Once upon a time it seems that we were all told that we needed to have CASE technology because we needed to start to have discipline with the building of software systems. It seemed like a good idea at the time. In most places, the IT department bought into CASE technology. The only problem was that on the immediate horizon were enterprise resource planning (ERP) and the personal computer (PC). With ERP, we gave the vast majority of software engineering to a third party; and with the PC (and the ubiquitous spreadsheet), the end users started to do major amounts of processing for themselves. Take a look and see how much software engineering your IT organization does for itself today. CASE was like selling buggy whips in 1910. By 1920 nobody needed buggy whips. Yet the IT department went for it – hook, line and sinker.

Next came the Year 2000 problem (Y2K). IT took control and made everyone wait and pay while they prepared for Y2K. And it was like the bomb shelters of the 1950s. Today we use the bomb shelters for ping pong rooms or places to store gardening equipment. The bombs simply never came and neither did the terror of Y2K. IT lost major credibility over this one.
Next on the list was the dot-com craze. We were told by Wall Street that “brick and mortars” were passé and that we all had to get our businesses on the Internet. The vast majority of the Internet stocks are now interesting wallpaper and the bright young MBAs that led the dot-com surge are now driving taxis in order to bring in enough money to feed their families. And IT fell for the dot-com craze.

So is it any wonder that the corporation does not trust its IT leadership when it comes to bringing in new technology? Hasn’t IT leadership made every wrong decision in the book? If history is any indicator, why should any corporation trust its IT staff?

Now there is a new craze on the block – big data. And in many places, the IT department is leading the charge for big data. Is this another fad that will cost corporations millions of dollars? Can IT answer the very real question: How do you achieve genuine business value with big data?

Time will tell.

  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

    Editor's Note: More articles, resources and events are available in Bill's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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