Five years ago, research firm McKinsey published best practices for multi-year strategic planning that emphasized the orchestration of an overarching plan that projects would fit neatly into, with each project delivering tangible value to the business.

The idea is spot on in theory, but five years later, many organizations find themselves struggling to demonstrate the payoff of their big data investments.

“One of the problems is that IT tends to measure gains from these projects in terms of improvements in system efficiency and speed, but that isn’t what the business user cares about,” said Bill Keyworth, vice president of research at IDC.

The point is well taken.

Speed of big data access, or even IoT and automation efficiencies can be documented–but what do they mean to a business executive who oversees sales or customer service? Can IT demonstrate how its work improved revenues? Or how it reduced time to repair or time to answer to a customer call and retained that customer?

SEE: Big data policy, with guidelines to help businesses achieve maximum yield from their big data investments (Tech Pro Research)

This is the disconnect that many IT leaders face, and it points to one thing: a need to deliver tangible value to the business quickly and absolutely. Here are some tips for doing this:

1. Focus on the short-term strategies

For a time, forget about long-term strategic plans and ask yourself instead, “What has IT done for the business lately?”

If you’ve been spending your time upgrading networks, bolstering internal security, and meeting project deadlines, but not checking that the projects are meeting business objectives, you need to correct focus. Your first step should be to look into these delivered projects. You can do this by checking with your users to see if their expectations were met. If the projects you did were more about improving IT big data infrastructure (e.g., improving security or upgrading networks), they are less likely to translate into tangible value for end business users.

2. Choose short-term projects that deliver immediate, tangible impact

The companies having the greatest success with big data are those that find small projects that deliver immediate payoffs and are easy for users to gain value from.

In construction, workers are using smart glasses that enable them to access building schematics and other data from their central systems as they walk through construction sites to check for work completions and conformance to specifications. In retail, companies are using facial recognition technology to capture the appearance of customers so they can improve the personalization of their services

These types of projects can saves time, improve safety, reduce costs, and give tangible value back to the business.

SEE: Turning big data into business insights (free PDF) (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature)

3. Get users actively engaged in projects

In construction, mining, agriculture, retail, and other industries, users are not sitting on the sidelines waiting for a big data project to be delivered. Instead, they are actively engaged in creating projects with IT, and then taking systems over and running them in their daily operations. Because short-term projects are narrowly tailored, it is relatively easy for users to assume an active project role and to learn how to quickly use the technology in their work. Once users feel they are in control of the technology, their enthusiasm grows. This user enthusiasm continues to build a strong case for big data as a permanent fixture in the organization.

4. Coordinate shorter term projects with the long-term plan

Even as you focus on some short-term projects that yield rapid business results, you don’t want to forget about your longer-term big data strategic plan and the role that each short-term project plays within it. The chief danger here is that you listen to an end user who has a specific idea for a short-term project–but the project contributes nothing to overall big data strategic direction. Your first approach is to work with the end user to refine the proposed project so it fits with plan. If the project continues to be a mismatch, it’s time to sit down with the user to explain why the project doesn’t fit, or to put the project aside for future consideration.

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