Getting the right people on the big data bus

If you’re grappling with the challenge of launching a big data initiative, and if the answer to either of these questions is “No,” then you’ve come to the right place. Big data isn’t just changing the technology and development landscape at companies. It’s forcing executives to reexamine incumbent organizational frameworks and cultural norms. It’s inviting new conversations around not only data and systems, but people. And it’s about time.

Anne Buff and Tamara Dull have answered the most important questions about big data teams in their new white paper, Getting the Right People on the Big Data Bus.

I recently asked to sit down with them — they both work for me, so they both agreed — to talk a bit about what it takes to assemble a skilled-yet-agile big data team.

Tamara Dull: I view big data teams as a natural evolution of our tried-and-true, traditional BI/DW teams. The key difference is that with so much data readily available these days, it’s easy for these teams to get overwhelmed and focus on the wrong things. Many companies have wasted no time installing new big data technologies (like Hadoop), loading it up with data, and then asking, “How can this data help us?” That’s backwards. Today’s big data teams need to identify the business issues first, then figure out what data and technologies will best support those requirements.

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Anne Buff: Big data teams challenge our beliefs and paradigms about organizational frameworks. Rather than being built from reporting structures and job titles and following traditional org charts, big data teams are built based on specific project needs and objectives. Members span organizational divides and take on various roles and responsibilities as the project rolls out. Once a team’s project is complete (or terminated – which is not a bad thing, especially in the world of big data), the team dissolves. New project, new objectives, new team.

TD: I have two quick pointers. First, let your company’s pressing business issues drive what skills and roles are needed. If you don’t know what these issues are, start there. Second, you don’t have to tackle big data on your own. Use external resources — such as technology vendors, freelance developers, big data consultants, Hadoop solution providers, etc. — to help fill in the gap as your company builds out its big data skill sets.

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AB: When it comes to big data teams, interest and excitement are huge drivers. You will find unexpected gems in team members who are motivated by the project goals and objectives.

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