July 12, 2012
It’s coming up more and more as a “must have” in conversations I’m having with clients and prospects. But is Big Data the “super” solution for besting competitors or driving value from in-house data that we’re told it is?
The answer is – it depends.
For this discussion, let’s start by getting on the same page in terms of terminology around data and information. Big Data is synonymous with machine-generated data – it’s a byproduct of computer processes and applications. It’s automatically generated passively, without any manual data entry by an end user.
It’s the 40 billion photos on Facebook, or the million customer transactions Walmart collects every hour and uploads into their database. It’s unstructured and never modified. Big Data is a reliable, historical record that will account for most of the six fold increase in data growth experts expect over the next few years. There is tremendous value in that data, so no surprise that everyone is scrambling to harness it, albeit with varying degrees of success and rationalization.
Traditionally, business intelligence (BI), is what decision makers have always used to inform their strategies and tactics for growing and staying competitive. Organizations expressly develop plans and methods to gather data from various business processes for BI solutions. BI is highly structured, detailed, and valuable. But BI is also retrospective, and has its limitations as a barometer for future performance. Big Data may have similar limitations – the crystal ball is nowhere close to being perfected.
But the ability to gather Big Data in real and near-real-time opens up new possibilities for acting proactively to, say, engage customers who’ve had a bad experience with your product – get to them before they smear your good name on Facebook – or monitor Web site traffic for insights into why visitors may leave a page or the site faster than you’d like. Big Data can also help you empower more employees to make direct contributions to departmental goals, as can self-service BI and mobile BI.
Ideally, you would want the ability to join BI and Big Data sources simultaneously for the delivery of ever smarter, faster outputs. But with the shortage of people versed in deep analytics and given the mind-boggling volumes and variety of data coming from social media, context-aware mobile data, video and databases, it’s going to take a while.
As you may know from reading my blog, I’m a big believer in thinking big but starting small. The best approach is to start with specific business goals and let these drive the balance between improving the data you currently use for BI and adding Big Data to the mix. Developing a plan that lets you bring in that Big Data and combine it with your BI insights will unearth the hidden value in those assets without burying you in an avalanche of irrelevant numbers. Find the right balance between the two and chances are your customers, employees, suppliers and shareholders will all love you for it.