CIOs: Turn your analytics expert into a venture capitalist

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Core Systems vs. Systems of Engagements CIO

It’s actually a lot cheaper and simpler than you may think to do what I call venture capital probing inside your own company. Your secret weapon is your analytics expert.

We tend to think of analytics as only outward-facing. But when you look inside your organization, you’re apt to find a lot of gold waiting to be discovered. By teaming up your analytics officer with the operations side of your organization, you can find some tremendous cost savings in operational processes simply by doing some rapid prototyping.

We subscribe to speed in our prototyping at JPL. It’s progress over process, or as we like to say, 'Perfection is the enemy of progress'. When we tie these principles together, we’re able to get data back quickly and identify what’s worth digging into more deeply. We can use our results, those initial analytics, to secure funding for a bigger effort.

In that regard, our IT data scientist has become a bit of a venture capitalist. At JPL, it starts with investing a little bit of effort (therefore money) into probing the data. That lets our data scientist develop visual analytics that are meaningful to the end user. Then the end user or the funder decides whether it’s worth digging deeper. Every time we do that, we find that the decisions on whether to proceed or not are made quickly. It’s great because up to that point you haven’t invested much time or effort into the project. And those initial analytics are often used as a way of getting funding for a bigger effort.

These rapid pathfinder prototypes become almost the ROI proposal for digging deeper. It’s not like the old days when the weak point in an ROI proposal was the data. These days, there’s so much more data that you can quickly probe, and if you’re 80% right, that’s good enough. It’s now possible for us to do things that we didn’t think possible before.

All of this big data hype is good because it creates a lot of opportunities for new technologies to flourish. We can now combine some of our structured data with other unstructured data that we never even thought about before. And we can also combine internal data with data from the outside, perhaps looking at ways our data compares to the rest of the industry, for example. This can allow us to create business cases that combine internal data with external trends. And it can be done in a matter of a week or so.

So the next time you need help identifying funding for a project, turn to your organization’s big data expert, a.k.a your venture capitalist. And remember not to let process get in the way of progress.

Tom Soderstrom is serves as Chief Technology Officer and Innovation Officer in the Office of the CIO at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Los Angeles, CA and a member of the Enterprisers Editorial Board. JPL is the lead U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system and conducts major programs in space-based Earth sciences. JPL currently has several dozen aircraft and instruments conducting active missions in and outside of our solar system.

Tom serves as the Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, in the Office of the CIO at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where his mission is to identify and infuse new IT technologies into JPL's environment.He has led remote teams and large scale IT best practices development and change efforts in both small startup and large commercial companies, in international venues, and in the US Governm

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