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Investment and Big Data: Calculate Intangible ROI

This is the 9th post in the 10-post series, “A Marketer’s Journey Through the Big Data Archipelago."

“Data is a precious thing and will last longer than the systems themselves.” – Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web

The Investment Isle in the Big Data Archipelago

The International Institute for Analytics (IIA) and SAS recently published the research report, “Big Data in Big Companies,” written by Tom Davenport and Jill Dyché. For this report, they conducted extensive interviews with 20 companies to learn how big data is changing their analytics strategies, as well as the impact it’s having on their business.

One concern on the mind of management is the return on investment (ROI) for big data. This continues to be a challenging discussion. “Sometimes our ability to be more nimble as a business isn’t easily quantifiable in hard dollars,” says SAS Best Practices Vice President, Jill Dyché. “Sure, you can quantify the cost savings and revenue uplift as a result of faster speed-to-market, but enhancing a company’s ability to innovate is a little squishier to put into numbers. In our survey, though, it was, in fact, the ability to innovate that compelled many of the executives we interviewed to invest in big data.”

A Big Data Best Practice for Investment

Over the years, we have calculated the ROI for our traditional data warehouse and analytical systems by focusing on hardware/software acquisition, licensing and maintenance. These continue to be important considerations, but let’s take it one step further for big data: Calculate ROI by focusing on new development processes, organizations and skills.

Here’s why: Big data is disruptive. We can plan on it to disrupt our current business development processes, how we function as an organization, and our current pool of skills. We can’t ignore the intangible costs — or the cost savings — of this disruption. Seek to understand it and capitalize on the real benefits of the big data journey.

Key Takeaways for Marketers

  • You’ve been here before: “Show me the ROI for [fill-in-the-blank].” These creative skills will come in handy for big data.
  • If you can figure out how to quantify the “ability to innovate” and market it, you could quit your day job. And become a consultant.
  • Make friends with the Knight in the Services territory of the island. He has a few secrets to share.
  • Just because it’s “free,” don’t underestimate the hard and soft costs of open source software, a primary component in many big data solutions.


BONUS: Download the executive summary for the “Big Data in Big Companies” research report now or register for the full report at


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