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This content is part of the Essential Guide: Big data exploration and analytics for CIOs: Oh, the places you'll go
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HoneyBaked Ham IT and marketing veeps find secret sauce in big data

At The Original HoneyBaked Ham Co. of Georgia, there's no such thing as data for data's sake. Bill Bolton, vice president of IT, and Mark O'Brien, vice president of marketing, work in tandem to ensure their teams are identifying the information that will move the Alpharetta, Ga.-based business forward.

"There's lots of data that you can look at, but if it's not insightful and not actionable, it's just data," O'Brien said. His partner in IT seconds that. "We've had lots of data for years. That's what we call big data. But we haven't had big information," Bolton said.

In this interview from the Kodak Alaris Global Directions 2013 conference in Washington, D.C., Bolton and O'Brien tell SearchCIO's Jenny Laurello about their efforts to carve out insights from consumer data, to keep the company website in sync with consumer tastes and to make sure ham continues to be a mainstay of the holiday table.

Big data utilization and fast data capabilities are key themes at the Kodak Alaris conference this year. How are you utilizing consumer data from both an IT and marketing perspective to help solve problems for your customers?

Mark O'Brien: I think, first and foremost, it's identifying what are the needs of the business, and then what data do we have to enable our decision making and what data is not accessible or how can we obtain it? We then work and partner with Bill and his team to make sure that we're accessing the right data points to drive the right insights that lead to the actions that will move the business.

There's lots of data that you can look at, but if it's not insightful and actionable -- it's just data. So it's making sure that you have the insight and that it is actionable to move the business forward. So we're doing that on a number of initiatives, whether that's a marketing program or tactic, or whether it's supply change or e-commerce.

Bill Bolton: Yeah, we've had lots of data for years. That's what we call big data. But we haven't had big information. And that's the problem. It's that business insight [that's important]. But it really takes a partnership with your business units, with marketing as an example, of aligning what he wants to see. What variations or properties about an individual consumer -- is it demographics, psychographics? There's a lot to be understood by the IT department on "OK, what do we need to capture? How can we add value to the data to make it insightful information?"

In your presentation you talked about the importance of continually focusing on and improving big cost centers -- the supply chain being one of them, but also data warehousing and workforce management. Are there other areas of enterprise technology and high-level tech implementation that could work a lot better than they do today?

Bolton: Well, with the variations of the different types of systems, it's easy to get lost in chasing the next big technology. So part of the CIO's world today is really managing expectations within the business, but also leveraging opportunities within the technology arena. And what that means for HoneyBaked is that software or hardware that comes into our enterprise fits the skill set of our team, or that it's a skill set that we can acquire.

There's so many different ways to talk to back-end systems; I think integration's going to be the biggest key for enabling cloud, just because of the diverse ways you talk to remote systems today. It's pretty archaic. The systems themselves are very strong at getting data in, but in terms of protecting or feeling secure in the fact that someone else is holding your customer data, transactional data or sales information -- it's critical that those things are [safe], and that we remove any mistake of how that data's being secured on the other side.

Another big topic has been the unprecedented rate of technology change in just the past five to 10 years. As you've mentioned, you're working on cloud, social computing, mobile access, just to name a few. How is HoneyBaked Ham planning to keep pace from both a marketing and IT perspective in the next five to 10 years?

Bolton: Well, the consumer is changing extremely fast on e-commerce. That's where you see it the most. So what we're doing now is enabling a new e-commerce website. One of a number of goals for the e-commerce site is, how do we continue to change with [consumers'] buying behavior? Their buying behavior is changing, so how do we keep up with the way they want to shop and also how do they want to see or have it delivered to them? Is it to their desktops? That's kind of going by the wayside; now it's moving to tablets or smartphones. What's happening next year? We don't know, but it's coming.

Also, the big thing in Web 2.0 is social networking -- it's huge and it's evolving. If you look back at the early 2000s and what websites looked like, or what e-commerce looked like, it was drastically different than what you see today. Now you're sharing and pinning and doing all the different things you can do. And it's exciting stuff, but what is also changing are the demographics of the core consumer. We talked in our presentation about the changing family size and the size of the family meals and we've got to keep up with that, too. It's not the big grandmother table and the big ham in the middle. It's a smaller family with a ham in the middle, fortunately.

Mark, how is your team strategizing around these changes and helping to enhance the promise of the new e-commerce platform?

O'Brien: Well, as Bill indicated, it's a dynamic environment. Boomers are now adopting technology, but Millennials, the younger generations, that's what they grew up with. To Bill's point, how do we make sure we have the right Web presence based on the consumer that we relate with and that we're pertinent for all of the various occasions in which HoneyBaked is relevant? How do we make sure that we're accessible, that we have the right assortment, that we have the right availability to them, based on the different resources that they have, particularly as we move into the mobile space?

So I can easily get my ham on the go.

O'Brien: Absolutely.

Bolton: And it's a challenging world, because the way my mom shops on the Web is much different than the way my wife shops on the Web, or my kids. It’s a hard world to manage because you don't want to alienate anybody in the process.

Listen to part two to hear about the framework Bolton and O'Brien developed to foster collaboration between their IT and marketing teams.

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