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Big Data 101 - Part 3

This is the third and final instalment in our Big Data 101 series about how to get your Big Data project off the ground.  In parts one and two we talked about getting your head in the right place and picking the right problem.  Now, we will tackle the final hurdle - getting the business case signed off.

For those of you who’ve seen the show Dragon’s Den you’ll know just how intimidating a bunch of experienced business people can be when you ask to spend their hard-earned cash. But without that key ingredient your Big Data project is a dead man walking. How do you avoid stumbling at the final hurdle, what’s the secret? 

It’s a sad fact that lots of great ideas lay scattered in ruins on the board room floor, dreams crushed, careers in question. No one wants to go there, right? Well as luck may have it, I’ve got some pointers to help you succeed.

I believe there are three key things to keep in mind when pitching your ideas to the money men and women in charge of the purse strings:

  1. Preparation is everything
  2. Make it real
  3. Know your numbers

Pretty short and sweet, and it really can be as easy as that, but let’s delve a little further into the details. You might have to bring your inner salesman along for the ride.

Preparation is everything

If you think that you can turn up and your idea will sell itself, you’re not living in the world I do (or those people with the money).  You’re going to have to work for it and that means preparation. Make sure your elevator pitch is sound and the message is clear. Smart business leaders have short attention spans so cut to the chase quickly and concisely. There will be obvious objections so make sure you think about what these will be, before the meeting, so that you have your answers prepared when they come up. For the non-obvious ones make sure you’re across the facts and hold onto the seat of your pants, that’s when things get interesting (and fun, there’s nothing like thinking on your feet to get the adrenaline pumping).

Finally, preparation is also about respect.  Decision makers are busy but if you put the effort in, you’re showing due respect and you’ll get a fair hearing. At this stage you’re in with a chance, so keep swinging.

Making it real

If you want to succeed in getting your Big Data initiative funded you’re going to have to drop the technical jargon and speak in terms that motivate business leaders. This in my experience boils down to a Yin/Yang kind of deal - you need to appeal to their sense of Greed or Fear.

Both are powerful emotions so here you need to awake your inner storyteller. Either there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or the big bad wolf is coming to grandma’s house.  You decide, but make it good and you’ll carry the floor, bad and you’ll be on it. Generally speaking I find gold is a better motivator than the wolf, but hey, whatever works wins. Just remember to take them on a journey, all the way from the problem to the rosey world at the end of the rainbow.

Still on your feet? Keep swinging, you’re close now.

Know your numbers

When it comes down to it, ‘open source’ this and ‘apache’ that are just technical mumbo jumbo to business people, they don’t really care, and even if they do, the project has to stack up as an investment. So what to do? Easy. Do your numbers, both sides of the ledger, costs and benefits.

But these data project benefits are so fuzzy and intangible, right? It’s really hard to get these down on paper. I know, I’ve been there, but you won’t get a 5 or 6 figure investment without some upside numbers, so suck it up and think outside the box. Find examples of similar projects that delivered quantified benefits, calculate time savings using actual employee costs, and estimate increased revenue based on realistic assumptions and logic. The Dragons don’t need absolute certainty.  Actually, they’re smart enough to know this doesn’t exist but they do want to see a realistic plan and sensible, justifiable returns on their investment. When you think about it, that’s fair enough in my book.

To wrap things up, getting your initiative funded doesn’t have to feel like climbing Everest. If you turn up prepared with your pitch, you can draw a line to money (or pain) and you have the numbers to back it up, then it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.

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