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Why Your CEO Should Be Awake At Night

Today we thought we would examine the private sector’s views on Big Data. As a regular reader you’ll be used to the news articles we feature as a means of highlighting big companies effectively utilising big data. Today we build on this, examining an opinion piece from Mark van Rijmenam via the Smart Data Collective, with some interesting learnings on what’s happening, where things are going, and how to approach Big Data.


Its easy to think of the private sector as reaching far beyond our social sector, filled with innovation and an abundance of well organized and informative cases of big data. Yet, according to this article from Mark van Rijmenam, they too are still asking if Big Data is just hype. They too are unsure of how best to utilize it, or even where to start.

Big Data Cartoon

The article’s author, Mark van Rijmenam states that “although we are at the peak of inflated expectations, Big Data is all but hype”. It is not just a challenge for your IT department – “Big Data is so important, that it better keep your Board, and especially your CEO, awake every night.” This may seem like hyperbole – especially given charity CEOs are more likely to lie awake worrying about the lives of their beneficiaries and whether they can afford to provide their services to even more – but Mark goes on to explain why.

Put simply, “organisations that do manage to implement a Big Data Strategy are doing very well, as research has shown that they outperform their peers financially by 20%.” This is a big impact, and one that is likely to translate to the social sector. As a CEO, if you knew a new strategy would mean lowering program costs by 20%, or working with 20% more people for instance, then you would be clamoring to create the strategy and have it in place by yesterday.

However, it is not that simple. Given the general lack of understanding about Big Data across many (most?) organisations, “it is anything but easy, as the statistics show 55% of Big Data projects fail.” The author puts this down, in part to the fact that before you have a strategy, you need “a different culture that is data-driven and information-centric”

As a means to help change this culture, Mark stressed that “Big Data is all about combining and analysing different data sets to create new, real time, insights that can be used for decision-making.” It’s all very well and good collecting it, but the real value is in analysing it effectively, leading to better results. (For a good example of this, we refer you back to our article from Riders For Health on how they use data to evaluate programme effectiveness)

As examples from the private sector, the article draws on three companies leading the way with Big Data:

1. Macy’s is changing the shopping experience thanks to Big Data.

2. Southwest Airlines delivers excellent service because of Big Data.

3. Coca-Cola uses Big Data to produce the best orange juice year-round.


Comforting though it may be to know the wider world of private business is struggling with big data, the value they place on its development is a firm reminder of quite what can be achieved with progress. The numbers presented in this article are fascinating, and should further encourage creating the data centric culture necessary for your first Big Data strategy. Don’t lie awake at night worrying about big data, but get planning now, and get ahead of the curve.



For further posts from the Smart Data Collective, we recommend their website, or following them on Twitter for regular updates. If you have any questions, be sure to send us a tweet, at Markets For Good, or comment below.