Building a Big Data Culture

Categories: General

In an earlier VISION post, The Five Markers on Your Big Data Journey, Amy O’Connor shared some common traits of many of the most successful data-driven companies. In this blog, I’d like to explore what I believe is the most important of those traits, building and fostering a culture of data.  

The most important elements to establishing a data-driven culture are having a strong executive sponsor and consistent communication.

Executive sponsors are advocates for creating and collecting data. They can have titles like chief information officer (CIO) or chief data officer (CDO), but they don’t necessarily have to be at the “C level.” An executive sponsor could be a business unit leader.  What’s important is that they use every opportunity to talk about and advocate for data, highlighting success stories along the way.  

For example, we were working with a business unit (BU) executive at a large telecommunications device provider. The company was in the very early stages of its big data journey at the time, but the BU had already successfully piloted a use case involving geolocation and device data. The executive sponsor leveraged that quick win to build a vision for how data and analytics could transform the entire company. Using compelling visuals, vivid descriptions, and plotting a detailed path from data ingest to application development, the sponsor was able to marshall broad support from other business units at telecoms provider. The company has since significantly expanded its big data investment.     

It stands to reason that a strong executive sponsor also needs to be an effective communicator, and work with their data teams to develop programs that drive visibility to their data efforts. Examples we’ve seen prove effective include:

  • Big data days, often held twice per year, the executive sponsor invites stakeholders from across the business to hear about progress and opportunities. Cloudera’s team of subject matter experts frequently present at these.
  • Bottoms-up forums like data meetups are also important. This is where data practitioners share learnings and best practices and data engineers showcase the data they’ve ingested, what it looks like, how it’s being used and how fast it’s growing. It’s also a place for data science and app developer teams to showcase insights they’ve found from the data being collecting.
  • Display visualizations in public places. Data visualizations don’t just look cool; they can also tell a story. For example, Level3 has an interactive screen in the lobby of its corporate headquarters that allows visitors and employees to see traffic loads on their network.
  • Hackathons are one- or two-day events where stakeholders from across an organization collaborate to solve a specific challenge. Last year, Cloudera hosted a hackathon focused on using data to help fight the spread of the Zika virus.


(Big Data Day @ Mid Western US Telecom. Participants from across business and tech groups came together to expedite Data Driven journey. Cloudera representatives Steve Totman and Larkin Kay presented a 1.5 hour session about use cases and people and process tips for driving big data initiatives.)


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