Risk Officers on the Front Lines of the Big Data Analytics Revolution
I was intrigued to read that when McKinsey gathered together “eight executives from companies that are leaders in data analytics …. to share perspectives on their biggest challenges”, they included not only chief information officers and marketing executives, but the chief risk officer from American Express.
The McKinsey Quarterly report that reviews the discussion doesn’t have any ground-breaking revelations. They say what has been said before, although it is still important for all of us to understand the enormous potential of Big Data Analytics.
One key point is that the existence of Big Data by itself has very limited value. It’s the ability to use emerging technology (from companies like SAP, Oracle, and IBM) to not only mine the data but deliver insights at blinding speed (using in-memory technology) that will bring amazing results.
But I was looking for more, which I explain after these quotes.
Big-data analytics are delivering an economic impact in the organization… The reality of where and how data analytics can improve performance varies dramatically by company and industry.
Companies need to operate along two horizons: capturing quick wins to build momentum while keeping sight of longer-term, ground-breaking applications. Although, as one executive noted, “We carefully measure our near-term impact and generate internal ‘buzz’ around these results,” there was also a strong belief in the room that the journey crosses several horizons. “We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said one participant. Many believed that the real prize lies in reimagining existing businesses or launching entirely new ones based on the data companies possess.
New opportunities will continue to open up. For example, there was a growing awareness, among participants, of the potential of tapping swelling reservoirs of external data—sometimes known as open data—and combining them with existing proprietary data to improve models and business outcomes.
Privacy has become the third rail in the public discussion of big data, as media accounts have rightly pointed out excesses in some data-gathering methods. Little wonder that consumer wariness has risen.
Our panelists presume that in the data-collection arena, the motives of companies are good and organizations will act responsibly. But they must earn this trust continually; recovering from a single privacy breach or misjudgment could take years. Installing internal practices that reinforce good data stewardship, while also communicating the benefits of data analytics to customers, is of paramount importance. In the words of one participant: “Consumers will trust companies that are true to their value proposition. If we focus on delivering that, consumers will be delighted. If we stray, we’re in problem territory.”
To catalyze analytics efforts, nearly every company was using a center of excellence, which works with businesses to develop and deploy analytics rapidly. Most often, it includes data scientists, business specialists, and tool developers. Companies are establishing these centers in part because business leaders need the help. Centers of excellence also boost the organization-wide impact of the scarce translator talent described above. They can even help attract and retain talent: at their best, centers are hotbeds of learning and innovation as teams share ideas on how to construct robust data sets, build powerful models, and translate them into valuable business tools.
What I was disappointed in was a lack of reference to how Big Data Analytics could and should be a fantastic opportunity for risk officers and internal audit executives.
All practitioners should be familiar with the concept of Key Risk Indicators (KRI). A useful paper by COSO defines KRI:
“Key risk indicators are metrics used by organizations to provide an early signal of increasing [ndm: they should have said ‘changing’] risk exposures in various areas of the enterprise. In some instances, they may represent key ratios that management throughout the organization track as indicators of evolving risks, and potential opportunities, which signal the need for actions that need to be taken. Others may be more elaborate and involve the aggregation of several individual risk indicators into a multi-dimensional score about emerging events that may lead to new risks or opportunities.”
However, I am not convinced that practitioners are seizing the opportunity.
I fear that they are concerned about the risks as their organizations embrace Big Data Analytics to drive performance while remaining blind to the opportunity to develop KRIs so that business executives can take the right risks.
I would appreciate your views. Is it a matter of cost? Or are happy simply unaware of the potential?