5 Key Challenges to Develop a Big Data Strategy

May 2, 2014

developing a big data strategy

Developing a big data strategy for your organization is not a simple task. It will take perseverance, trial and error and a cultural change to become a truly data-driven, information-centric organization. For a lot of organizations, Big Data is still difficult to understand (27% of companies surveyed in a recent survey by Jaspersoft), while 20% of organizations do not see a business justification to start with big data. What does it take to bring your organization to the next level and to start developing a big data strategy? Here are five key challenges that you need to overcome in order to successfully implement a big data strategy:

Big Data Will Increase IT Dependency

In the past, IT has become a lot more important for many organizations and in the coming years we will see, with the appearance of the Internet of Things and the Industrial internet, that many currently unconnected devices will become datafied and start generating vast amounts of data. For companies that develop offline products and only use IT for their website, this will mean a rigorous change. In the coming years, IT will become a central part of all business units. Big Data will infiltrate and affect all departments within your organization and that requires a different way of working.

So apart from being able to access the data, Big Data will become an essential part of the different departments and consequently require IT staff of their own. For many organizations, IT will form a much more important aspect of their company and for currently ‘offline companies’ this is a major shift that needs to overcome.

The Big Data Business Case Is Difficult to Determine at First

In almost any organization, it is important to build a business case before a Big Data project can be started. However, the challenge with Big Data projects is that defining the Return On Investment (ROI) is rather difficult, as Big Data requires new hardware and software and a new way of working. For any organization in any industry, Big Data offers different possibilities and the results are therefore also different.  In order to be able to determine the ROI, start with a pilot project, which is also a learning experience and will give more insights in the ROI of projects that follow after.

The challenge to overcome is that without a Big Data project finished, it is difficult to determine a valid ROI, however without a clear ROI a ‘Go’ for the Big Data project becomes rather difficult. The only way to overcome this challenge is to just start with a small, well defined, pilot project, see it as an investment that does not have to bring a return per se, but will teach you a lot about what Big Data can mean for your organization. The experiences gained and lessons learned during the pilot project can be used to better determine the ROI for future projects.

Data Within Organizations Often Resides in Silos

To make the most of Big Data, it is all about combining different data sources. Although one of the components of Big Data is Volume it is much more about combining data. Big Data becomes Mixed Data as I described in the Big Data trends for 2014. However, the problem is that if different departments within an organization collect data, they most probably do this separately and make it difficult to share the data within the organization, although most probably not done deliberately. Nike for example, used to have their data stored across the entire organization, thereby limiting what could be done with the data. They removed the silos and combined all data in one central platform, accessible by all employees based on their role. This enabled Nike to innovate and stay ahead of their competitors.

Apart from the data silos within an organization, companies should also look outside and start thinking of new data sets that can be used. Combining open and social media data or public data can provide great insights. Organizations should start thinking out-of-the-box when developing a Big Data strategy and not limited themselves to the data that is already available within their organization.

Ensure the privacy of customers, while making the most out of the available data

After the all the leaked documents by Snowden, privacy might seem a thing of the past, but if organizations deal with their data correctly, this does not have to be the case. Privacy is still an extremely valuable right for consumers that should be protected. Organizations should therefore try to find the right balance between the use of data for profit and the privacy of their customers.

In order to do this, organizations should start to be open and transparent towards their customers regarding what they do with their data, what they collect and why they collect, store and analyze that data. In addition, they should make it simple for customers to make adjustments regarding what data and the amount of data that is collected and how it can be used. Finally, security should be key for companies and they should do what it takes to prevent data breaches. We have seen too many data breaches in the past years that for sure negatively impact the privacy of consumers.

Finding the right balance between the privacy of your customers and the Return on Data is difficult, but in the long run the Return on Data will be higher if you successfully protect the privacy of your customers.

Big Data Requires a Cultural Change

In many organizations, there are change-averse managers that do not believe in the power of data and are holding back a transformation to a data-driven, information-centric organization. They do not trust the data and prefer to rely on their gut feeling when making decisions and therefore they do not see the need to become more data-driven. In fact, as IBM discovered, 1 in 3 business leaders do not trust the information they receive to make decisions

The veracity of the data is therefore extremely important. This means that organizations need to ensure that the data is actually correct as well as the algorithms performing the analyses are correct in order to ensure that the information derived from the data is correct. This requires a cultural shift and it convincing all business leaders to trust the data and the derived-information will be a major challenge when developing a Big Data strategy. In order to overcome this challenge, organizations should spend sufficient time and energy to educate the employees and managers in dealing with data and using the data to make the right decisions. This is time-consuming, as creating trust always is.


Although developing a big data strategy is difficult, it should not hold you back to start developing one. Organizations, small or large, should start seeing the value in the data at hand and the possibilities of combining that data with other data sets and analyzing it for insights. For those organizations that have successfully implemented a Big Data strategy, it was never an easy task but the results are impressive.

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About The Author

Mark van Rijmenam is the founder of, the number one big data knowledge platform. Mark is a strategist who advises organizations on how to develop their big data strategies. As such, he is a well sought after speaker on this topic. He is aware of the latest trends in the world. Next to blogging on BigData-Startups, he also blogs on, which is a platform with the world's best thinkers on big data. As such, he is a well sought after speaker on this topic. He is co-founder of 'Data Donderdag' a bi-monthly (networking) event in The Netherlands on big data to help organizations better understand big data. His book Think Bigger is a great essential resource for big data strategy.

One Comment »

  1. avatar

    Really Companies that effectively create and implement big data strategies stand to gain a competitive advantage. it’s almost impossible to talk about business strategy without mentioning the transformative potential of big data.

    Thanks for excellent article with good Insight


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