Companies of all sizes are accumulating vast amounts of business data. Information Technology (IT) leaders who clearly show the business value that Big Data and Predictive Analytics can deliver will find no shortage of projects for improving their companies. That was just one observation shared at a recent round table discussion at TDK Technologies.

Big Data Value Delivered in a Short Period of Time

Dan Sherman (Director of Data and Analytics at Graybar) and Craig Hibbeler (Principal - Big Data & Security at MasterCard Advisors) shared success stories and advice with IT executives from a diverse group of regional industries that are in the initial stages of exploring the possibilities of Big Data. Key recommendations included developing a Big Data culture that encourages projects to emerge from the employee ranks and then showcasing the returns those projects deliver for the business.

The panel agreed on the importance of building the necessary technology, but also for conducting outreach that communicates the value that can be derived from Big Data initiatives.

Graybar, the privately-held St. Louis based industrial and electrical supply distributor, achieved significant results in its operations division just a few months after launching a Big Data initiative. Sherman said Graybar’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Senior Vice President of Operations were the first to understand the potential, which permitted the practice to get off the ground quickly.

After the necessary technology architecture was put in place, Graybar identified initial Big Data and Predictive Analytics use cases that could produce immediate results. Fleet management and asset utilization were some of the first beneficiaries of using open source software solutions to extract patterns and predict trends from existing data sets.

“We worked on operations first. The ability to get people enthusiastic about identifying potential use cases has been really exciting for getting this practice off the ground,” Sherman said. “The biggest accomplishment so far is that we have enough evangelical push from people out in the company who have started coming to us with ways to use data that historically had not been considered.”

The Importance of Articulating Big Data ROI

The concept of handling large amounts of structured and unstructured data remains relatively new for many companies. Because of that, the panel agreed that executive level leadership that supports Big Data initiatives is essential, along with sponsoring partners who can clearly describe the returns that are possible from projects. For example, Sherman said the key to developing a data-driven culture is to help leaders, especially at the CEO level, understand the lost potential by neglecting the data assets already in hand.

“It’s getting them to understand that it’s not just the next report or next analytic. And then it is finding the key stakeholders in the middle line of the company who could embrace what we are doing so we could have proof points,” Sherman said. “Once we did, it started really driving home what a data driven culture is all about.”

Once established, Big Data technology allows a virtually endless set of potential uses. Sherman said Graybar requires a business sponsor to stand behind each Big Data and Predictive Analytics use case his practice tackles so that the focus remains on delivering maximum value. The sponsor must be able to clearly articulate the value achieved and explain the Return on Investment (ROI) that the project delivered.

“Go big, to places where you can see some exceptional use cases and test the waters with it. Even if you don’t achieve that top level ‘change-the-world outcome’, what can be accomplished in between is pretty impressive,” Sherman said. “We did a simple customer-facing exercise using Hadoop where we took a million records and created a 12-field golden customer record in a matter of two or three weeks. That started to get people to see the value.”

The round table was facilitated by TDK Data Solutions Director Larry Steele and attended by organizations in market segments including financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, consumer package goods, retail, education, telecommunications and technology. For more information about how Big Data and Predictive Analytics can help your company, contact TDK Technologies at 636-778-1404 or

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