There is gold in other company's data streams, CIOs just need to know how to find it

There is gold in other company’s data streams, CIOs just need to know how to find it
Image Credit: Tony Oliver

Data, data, data everywhere. Oh, and then there is that security thing. When you have the CIO job today, you have your hands full because of the importance of information technology just trying to stay on top of all of the data that your company is generating. Your responsibility is to create, store, secure, and analyze all of the company’s data in order to provide the company with a competitive advantage. However, have you ever considered using your data mining skills to get information about the competition?

Say Hello To Social Media

Back in the day (say 5 years ago), I had my data and you had yours. Unless a CIO was willing to go “dumpster diving”, their chances of finding out what was really going on over at the company’s biggest competitor was pretty much nill. Then everything changed. The reason that everything changed is because a wave of change swept over every company out there. This wave had a name and that name was social media.

Social media is all about people talking to other people. Naturally, people who work for a firm are going to be talking about their firm. They’ll be talking about their jobs (the good and the bad), their customers (also the good and the bad), products, and plans. Pieces of information that used to only be buried deep within a company are now routinely chatted about in various social media circles.

What a CIO needs to know is what kind of information his or her company would like to find out about the competition. You can’t find what you want if you don’t know what you are looking for. The things that are of the most interest to a company include such items as product specifications along with any financial data, and recruitment efforts. One of the most important pieces of information that any company would like to learn about their competition, how customers feel about their product, is arguably the easiest type of information to collect from social media tools.

What A CIO Can’t Mine

Based on discussions that I’ve had with other CIOs, if you start to mine the data streams that are provided by the popular social media tools (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) you are very quickly going to be surprised at just how much information starts to come your way. Your biggest challenge isn’t going to be getting the information, rather it’s going to be sorting through all of the information that you’ve collected.

It’s while you are doing all of that sorting that you are going to have to be careful. There are a number of ethical boundaries that can show up quickly and as the CIO you are going to have to be the one who advises your IT team how they should handle each situation. Remember, just because you can do something does not mean that you should do something.

Where CIOs will run into ethical problems is when their IT staff members come to them and request permission to do things like creating a fake Facebook page or “friending” someone who works at your competitor. These types of activities are probably going too far, but you should feel free to mine your competition’s Twitter feed.

What All Of This Means For You

As the person in the CIO position, you have your hands full. Just by itself, your company is bursting at the seams with data that you are ultimately responsible for managing, storing, and securing. It turns out that the skills that you’ve developed in order to do this can also be used to keep track of the competition.

In today’s always on, hyper-connected business environment, the arrival of social media has changed everything. What used to be a private discussion now takes place online. People who you would have never know about are answering questions about your competition’s products and strategy online. All of this data is there for you to mine using your CIO skills. However, there are lines and you need to make sure that you don’t cross them.

We live in an era in which we almost think that the answer to any question that we might have must be out there somewhere already. However, when it comes to information about the company’s competition, it’s up to the CIO to go out and get what’s there. Use your well-tuned data management skills to go out there and find out what you company needs to know in order to be a success!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How much time during a week do you think a CIO should spend looking for data about the completion?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Successful CIO Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Successful CIO Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

You know, for years and years we’ve talked about trying to align business and IT and yet we never seemed to make much progress. Well I’ve got some good news for you: the arrival of analytics projects where large amounts of business data has to be crunched in order to get the answers that the business needs is driving IT and the rest of the business closer together than ever before. However, even though we now understand the importance of information technology, we still have not worked out the rules for how this is to be done.

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Just having big data is not enough, you need to know what to do with it

Just having big data is not enough, you need to know what to do with it
Image Credit: Ian Alexander Martin

CIOs everywhere are being overwhelmed with talk about “big data”. This is simply using IT systems and tools to process very large data sets in order to answer questions about how best to run the company. What used to be too big of a task for anyone to attempt has become doable with new tools and techniques allowing us to harness the importance of information technology. However, it turns out that just having all the data is not enough – you actually have to know what to do with it.

Why Working With Big Data Is So Hard

One of the reasons that dealing with big data is so very hard to do is because it’s all about finding a way to first gather, then comb through a very large amount of data in order to find insights that can’t be found when you are operating on a smaller scale. The key to any good big data project is being able to collect all of the data that you need and this is where things start to get complicated.

The first problem that many people with the CIO job run into is the simple fact that your company uses a great number of pieces of equipment and applications that were never designed to work together. What this means is that these different devices and systems all speak different digital languages. In order to collect and aggregate the data that they are producing, you are going to have to create an IT team to make sure that the data that you are collecting will be able to be processed later on.

The next challenge that you’re going to be facing is going to be that you may not know what kind of data you are collecting. You need to keep in mind that the big data that is being assembled comes from many different parts of your company. Those different parts generally don’t work together and rarely do they coordinate how their processes work. What this means for you as the person in the CIO position is that your department is going to have to work with all of these other departments. The goal is going to have to be to find out what terms are being used to describe what items. You’ll probably find out that a number of different terms are being used to describe the very same thing.

It’s All About Relationships

Once you have the big data that you are going to need for your analysis, this is when the fun really begins. It can be all too easy to get caught up in the numbers that the company uses everyday like sales and spending. However, if you do this then you’ll be missing the point. What big data analysis is really designed to do is allow the IT department to study the relationships between different sets of numbers. This is how you can spot trends that don’t show up in smaller data sets.

This is good stuff; however, as CIO you need to be aware of the challenges that come along with performing big data analysis. One of the biggest questions that you are going to have to deal with is determining when you have enough data. There seem to an ever growing number of data sources that could be added to your big data collection. However, at some time you are going to have to say “enough is enough” and stop the collection of more data and start the hard work of analyzing it.

As a CIO it is going to require your input to keep things moving. When you consider all of the different sources of data that will be included in a big data project, things can quickly become overwhelming. There may be transcripts of calls with customers, government market studies, web-search results, etc. Your team may get bogged down just trying to make sense of it all. It’s going to be your job to help them understand what is really important and to realize the importance of moving forward.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs need to understand that their world has changed. What used to be impossible is now possible. All of that data that the company has been collecting for so long can now be analyzed in order to provide insights into how the company can be more successful. The trick is knowing how to do this.

One of the most important things that a CIO has to realize is that how the big data is communicated is going to be very important. This means that you need to get the various groups that collect the data to use the same terms to refer to it and to make sure that the data is all formatted the same way. The other thing that has to be understood is that using big data is not all about number crunching. Instead, it’s about studying the relationships between different groups of data.

CIOs that can harness the power of big data analysis for their company can help the company to realize big dividends. In order to make this happen, you are going to have to sit down with everyone who is in charge of collecting the data and get them to provide it to you in a way that it can be understood and processed. This is not going to be easy to do, but the end results will make all of the effort that you put into it well worth the effort.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What part of your company do you think would benefit the most from big data results?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Successful CIO Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Successful CIO Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Data, data, data everywhere. Oh, and then there is that security thing. When you have the CIO job today, you have your hands full because of the importance of information technology just trying to stay on top of all of the data that your company is generating. Your responsibility is to create, store, secure, and analyze all of the company’s data in order to provide the company with a competitive advantage. However, have you ever considered using your data mining skills to get information about the competition?

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