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A big data pilot needs the right stakeholders

Selecting the right big data use case is on every expert’s list of big data best practices. Another? Getting the right stakeholders involved.

Before CIOs can take a big data pilot into production, they’ll need to figure out who to get involved and when. Those two questions may be tough to answer, especially for CIOs at companies that have a siloed approach to the work they do, according to Micheline Casey, former chief data officer at the Federal Reserve who is now an advisory board member for the big data analytics company ClearStory Data.

Big data projects often end up requiring input from across business functions. Getting stakeholders involved early means CIOs could tap into that input and lean on them to generate support for the larger project. But knowing when to bring people in can be tricky.

Too many cooks in the kitchen can be a big data pilot killer, and so some CIOs may decide to hold off involving the chief privacy, risk or security officer or legal counsel in an effort to give their teams room to experiment. At other organizations, doing so could ultimately backfire. “You could have a really successful pilot or a first attempt at a big data project, and then realize you totally forgot to do something vis-a-vis your security or privacy policies, and you have to go back and start from the beginning,” Casey said.

That’s especially true for highly regulated industries such as pharma, health care or insurance where a privacy, risk or security officer can ensure strict data governance policies are being met — even for a pilot project, Casey said. And she speaks from experience. When working for a health care company (“who will remain nameless,” she said), one of its first big data pilot efforts focused on customer engagement.

It was the early days of big data when businesses weren’t as scrupulous about anonymizing personally identifiable information (PII) as they are today. Casey and the team (composed of business intelligence and technology employees) kicked the pilot project up to the next senior level to vet, and that person rang the anonymization alarm bell.

“We realized we needed to have a privacy officer involved and things had to be tweaked,” she said. The discovery didn’t eat up too much time, setting Casey and the team back only about a month. Nor did it put the company at risk because the flaw was caught at an early stage. “Making sure you have a wide array of stakeholders at the table from the very beginning is really important to the long-term sustainability for these projects,” she said.

Getting a privacy, security or risk officer or legal counsel isn’t a de facto step. For a big data pilot doesn’t utilize PII, “these folks aren’t needed,” she said.