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Without a data-driven culture, big data projects will fail
February 12, 2016 Blog

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Tara Paider, associate vice president of IT architecture at Nationwide Insurance based in Columbus, Ohio, has some advice for data experts eager for big data project success: One of the biggest reasons big data projects fail is neither the technology nor the quantity of the data. It’s people.

Case in point: A regular part of the job for Nationwide’s insurance agents is to make sure customers don’t jump ship when their premiums are due to go up. Working from a list of premiums expected to change in the next 30 days, agents pick up the phone and connect with their best customers to explain the changes. Data from a new customer data analytics program, however, found that doing so sometimes had a negative effect: Rather than help agents hold on to customers whose premiums were changing, the calls actually caused attrition, Paider said.

“It was hard for [the agents] to wrap their heads around the fact that what the data was saying was different from what they’d seen and acted on for the last 20 years,” she said to Gartner Business Intelligence and Analytics attendees in Las Vegas.

And so Paider and her team began producing more nuanced lists, giving agents access to only those premium notices “where calling and touching base with the customer would have the right impact,” she said.

Tara Paider

It’s a story as old as the CIO position itself. ERP consolidation projects often failed, for example, because of people — not technology. Big data, it seems, is no different. But big data is upending more than business process workflows; it’s having an effect on everything from enterprise infrastructure to the org chart. To ensure that people are excited by rather than threatened by what the data is saying, experts often tell companies that they simply have to create a data-driven culture. But that’s easier said than done.

As Paider pointed out, a strong corporate culture — of any ilk — may begin with executive sponsorship, but it doesn’t end there; it also requires frontline employees to get on board, which can create additional hurdles. “It was the hardest thing to get past — the ‘this was the way we’ve been doing it for 20 years or 30 years, and we know best.’ That’s our biggest challenge,” she said.