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How to Get Over Your Inaction on Big Data

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TECHNOLOGY

How to Get Over Your


Inaction on Big Data
by Phil Simon
FEBRUARY 24, 2014

Its common to see surveys, polls, and reports showing that most organizations
are embracing big data. For instance, a 2013Gartner surveyfound that 64% of
enterprises were deploying or planning big data projects, up from 58% the year
before.

But I find these numbers hard to believe, for three reasons. First, they contradict
what Im seeing in the field. Second, theyre inconsistent withthe history of
technology. Yes, we live in what Ray Kurzweil calls an era of accelerating
technological change, but no transformative application or device has ever
achieved critical mass within three years. Finally, asBill Schmarzo of EMC points
out,most organizations are still feeling their way into big data. Theyre at the low
end of what Schmarzo calls the big-data maturity spectrum.

I would wager that for every Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, and
Google, there are still thousands of midsized and large organizations that are doing
nothing with big data beyond giving it lip service.

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One big barrier to implementation is the incessant noise around big data from
consultants, vendors, and the media. The din leaves many, if not most, CXOs
confused and intimidated. They wonder: Do we start small or large? Is big data just
another IT project that can be run by a unit head? And whats the ROI going to be,
anyway?

To begin with, big data isnotjust another IT initiative. Traditional tools (businessintelligence applications, relational databases) simply cant handle petabytes of
unstructured information. Nor is it amenable to traditional discussions about
return on investment. Outcomes of big-data deployment are inherently
uncertainpredicting its ROI is an exercise in futility.

In fact, the beauty (and the horror, to some people) of big data is that you dont
know where its going to take you. You might discover fascinating and valuable
insights. Or you might find nothing of interestat least not yet.

That uncertainty doesnt bother companies like Netflix, which exhibit a deep
curiosity about their data. For example, Netflix goes so far as to analyze the color
content of shows and movies packaging. If responses to certain colors or
combinations are among the factors driving consumers choices among the
companys nearly80,000 sub-genres of movies, Netflix wants to know.

The capabilities of companies on the mature end of Schmarzos spectrum are


downright scary. But you cant expect to go from zero to Netflix overnight. These
firms have been capturing, storing, and analyzing massive amounts of data for
more than a decade. During that time, theyve followed a number of critical steps:

Theyve accepted that big data requires a large commitment throughout the
organization. Doing big data right necessitates the full support of the leadership
and everyone in the organization.

Theyve methodically built up their internal data repositories.

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Theyve invested in new tools.

They think about big datas ROI in holistic ways. Big data is not comparable to
ERP and CRM applications. These suites lent themselves to traditional ROI
calculations because they largely automated manual business processes. Rather
than focusing on the costs of action, mature big-data users consider the costs
ofinaction. They dont want to be playing catch-up to competitors that have
figured out how to utilize new sources and forms of data. Theyre painfully
aware ofthe Matthew Effect.

If youre starting on the big-data path, the first few months are critical. Look
closely at your organizations current data practices. If a company doesnt do a
good job of managing relatively small amounts of structured data, it isnt likely to
do well with big data. Does the company have a culture of making decisions based
on data, or do politics, tradition, and policy rule the day? Is failure punished so
severely that no one is willing to take risks?

These are all danger signs. If you squirm when reading this, dont embark on the
big-data voyage until your company has learned to manage small data well, has
committed to basing its decisions on real information, and is agile and tolerant of
risk-taking.

Assuming your company is ready to take on big data, the first year should serve as
petri dish of sorts. What works? What doesnt? Are certain data sources more
valuable than others? Trying to do everything at once is never a good idea. Its
important to achieveand communicatelittle victories, such as getting
employees to learn new tools and ask better questions of their data sources. Its
these victories that build the foundation for future insights.

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Its unlikely that your organization possesses the data and financial and human
resources that Netflix doesbut that shouldnt dissuade you from embarking on
your big-data journey, a point that I made in aprevious post. A mere decade ago
Netflix couldnt collect, store, or analyze this type of information either.

So forget the ROI mind-set and the project mentality, and imbue big data into your
overall business strategy.

Phil Simon is the author of The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for
Better Decisions, forthcoming from Wiley, and other management books.

This article is about TECHNOLOGY


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14 COMMENTS

mcccode

2 years ago

"In fact, the beauty (and the horror, to some people) of big data is that you dont know where its
going to take you."

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I start by quoting this part of the article, because you should know
"where are you going". Big Data is a tool to understand and visualize
data that you have not correlated before or you would like to start
visualizing. Is different from CRM or ERP because the Data from those
systems is imported to your big Dta tool along with other plugs, such as
a holiday calendar to compare sales performance after the holiday rush.
Big Data Development is made by hunches (provided that you are an
organized company that has actual data). You feel that a certain
situation is a conductor of sales into your company and you designed the
algorithm for it.
Should small business concentrate on Big Data?
in most cases the
answer should be not for now, there will be affordable services in the
near future to help you achieve the primary goals and see if BIG DATA is
providing an added value for your Company.
A small little experiment that i made using BIG Data was a Kind of
Impact title words for twitter to get a better going (i am not a big
twitter user, but i recognize the importance), while Using various
channels and words to extract the most influential vocabulary for my
tweets, i actually found that My LinkedIn Channel completely Crashed.
In
others words no traffic coming from this source and no great titles
coming to my big data. So it helped to correct the trend, rather
quickly.
00

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