Beware of Big Data Analytics Snake Oil Salesmen

Snake oil

If you’ve been around the telecom space as long as I have (20+ years), you’ve seen a lot of technologies, acronyms and unfortunately even people come and go. Anyone remember CDPD? Now we have a more recent buzz word – Big Data Analytics. I’m not saying Big Data Analytics is going to go away, I’m just saying there are a lot of people who like to name things we have been doing for 20 years or more. I applaud the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) to avoid the whole big data terminology, naming their event this year in Vegas – “Telecom Analytics”. I hope to see you there at the show on Monday September 16th.

If we don’t run into each other, what I’m sure you WILL see at the CCA show is plenty of companies touting their Big Data Analytics systems. Many of these companies are solving real problems, but there will also be plenty of them telling you all the organizational “ailments” that their system will treat. Just like the Snake Oil Salesmen of old, you need to be remain somewhat suspicious and ask plenty of questions like:

  • Can you show me some case studies where you have implemented this system at a telecom company?
  • Can you show me a business case with a Net Present Value (NPV) calculation?
  • What is the typical organizational model where that this system is deployed into?
  • Does your company offer professional services to include process engineering for this system?
  • How difficult is it to operate this system – do I need a computer science degree or can any analyst get the most out of this system?

What most telecom companies and big data analytics system companies fail to realize is that there are three legs to the business improvement “stool”:

1.     People – this is listed first for a reason. Without the right people (with the right skills, experience and competencies) to run it, the best system will never be fully utilized. If you pay $1M+ for a system, you don’t want it to collect dust. You want people who are focused on solving a specific set of business problems who can represent the key stakeholder departments you are going to be working with. It may sound obvious, but if you are trying to solve Engineering problems, you need an Engineering type person. If you are trying to solve Marketing problems, you need a Marketing type person. In most cases you will need both types, and more. You can learn more about finding the right people here – http://cegpartners.com/2012/11/screen-for-round-pegs-to-avoid-hiring-mistakes/

2.     Process – this is second to People but before System selection. Assuming you have the right people, you need to make sure they are properly aligned with each other and with the stake holder departments they will be working with. You can use your own process methodology but the tools I use most often come from Lean Six Sigma (LSS). LSS is a combination of process speed (Lean) and quality (Six Sigma) that combines for an extremely effective improvement to the overall customer experience. It is critical that you have a well-documented process BEFORE you implement any system. You can learn more about Lean Six Sigma here – http://cegpartners.com/2013/06/what-is-lean-six-sigma/

3.     System – Lastly (and for a good reason), comes system selection. I’ve seen it too many times (I may have even done it myself). Someone finds a really cool system that seems like the solution to all their problems. However, they haven’t done their homework on the first two “legs of the stool” I explained above. The issues begin to come while implementing the system, but become very obvious once in full production. The system doesn’t seem to deliver on what was “promised” so the operator blames the system vendor. The system vendor keeps pouring money at it to fix it, but can’t seem to ever please the operator.

So, in closing, don’t fall prey to the Snake Oil Salesmen out there trying to sell you on Big Data Analytics. Like most things, doing your homework first goes a long way in preventing you from being duped.

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