Law Firms: Who is on Your Big Data Bus?

By Deborah Dobson posted 02-12-2015 11:59

This week I attended the first of a series of big data webinars titled "The Mavens of Big Data" which was very informative. I highly recommend attending one, if not the entire series.  Some of the sessions may be technical, but even so, it is good to learn as much as you can about big data as it certainly is not going away. In fact, as my previous big data blog post pointed out, big data has become important to inside counsel as some panelists discussed at the 2015 LegalTech conference. IBM reported in 2014 that we created 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day - so much that 90% of the data in the world has been created in the last two years alone. 

The presenter on the first webinar was Tamara Dull, Director of Emerging Technologies on the SAS Best Practices team, a thought leadership organization at SAS Institute.  The webinar focused on getting the right people on your Big Data team and the roles that were needed.

Tamara pointed out that the big data challenges are mostly people, not the technologies. She stressed that the big data team should be a cross-functional team including business and IT roles in order to be successful. A big data team is a company's traditional team with some big data skills. Big data teams should not be static because the skill sets needed will shift depending on the type of big data project. Tamara added that contractors and service providers could be used on the more technical side with the platform and development functional areas, but it was important to include the organization's business stakeholders, governance and policy leadership, users and executives.

Big data team skills should include not only technical skills such as data science (the ability to experiment with data without fear), data architecting, software frameworks such as hadoop and analytics programming languages, but also soft skills such as the ability to think broadly across the organization, understanding the business bottom line, knowing what questions to ask to reach the bottom line and be able to measure and communicate results.

The ability to measure and communicate results, or to quote Tamara, "tell the story" strikes me as critical for those of us who work at a law firm.  Lawyers, by their very nature and training, are cynical. This is very valuable as they are working to solve a client's legal issue, but can be challenging when working with them to adopt new technologies or support new technology initiatives.  Without the ability to tell the story, the project will not be deemed a success.

One of Tamara's quotes that I really liked was from one of the upcoming presenters, Anne Buff, Thought Leader - SAS Best Practices, "Big data is not a one and done. Big data is a series of projects or a program." Perhaps a firm is interested in better understanding the legal market or how to improve the client experience.  These are good projects to begin to learn how to use big data to help answer questions, solve business problems and reach business goals.

There are a number of MOOC (massive open online courses) courses available (often for free) to learn about big data from the business side, along with the technology side. I recommend checking them out.  I have taken several and they were quite good.  Also, Bernard Marr, an expert in big data, wrote a good LinkedIn post on how to learn big data for free. I recommend the read. In addition, I'm developing an ILTA big data webinar series which will have some really great speakers and be pre-recorded so you can listen when you are available. Stay tuned as the first will launch in April.