Three years ago, dairy cooperative Land O' Lakes Inc. envisioned combining publicly available data -- lots of it -- with internal data sources to help its seed-and-crop-protection customers. The aim was to figure out what to plant where, and when, in order to produce the best crop yields. The company's desire to harness these disparate data sources for new business insights was at the cusp of what we now routinely refer to as the big data revolution in business -- so kudos to Land O' Lakes for knowing a good idea when it saw one.
As our cover story in this month's CIO Decisions makes clear, however, getting from the vision thing to actionable data is not for the faint-hearted, especially when a large chunk of data doesn't play nice with traditional enterprise data warehouses. "That's sort of the nature of unstructured data: the lack of precision, the fact that there's likely to be erroneous information stuck in with the good stuff, that there are no restrictions. It can make for a lot of work to massage it or get it into a format you know is reliable and meaningful," Land O' Lakes CIO Barry Libenson told Senior News Writer Nicole Laskowski.
IT not only found a way to mash that data but also succeeded in putting the right data into the right hands via iPads and Android devices. Says Libenson: "Time is everything. If you can be ahead of the competition, give your sellers confidence, keep your growers happy, everything works out fine."
There's even more to this happy ending: The project fundamentally changed the relationship between the technology organization and the business, because, as Libenson put it, "We were delivering something to them that was unlike anything they'd ever gotten." Analyst Kurt Schlegel of Gartner Inc. believes the use of big data does not just have the power to change the relationship between IT and the business, but will transform how business gets done, period, by making business operations more transparent. "There's going to be no place for poor performance or inefficiencies to hide, and I think that's going to be relevant to every industry," he said.
My takeaway from the story? CIOs are lucky to be in a profession that can deliver something the world has never seen before.
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