We all know there's a lot more data around today than there ever was, that it's coming at us faster, and it's taking on many more shapes and sizes than ever before. That's a trend that's been going on for some time. And, like with many trends, once it has a name, then it gets more attention. So, welcome to "big data". This has all the smell of a new management fad, as leading consulting firms, solution providers, and technology firms all tout their particular take on why it's essential and what to do about it. Like most management fads, at the heart of it is something important that business leaders should pay attention to. But, two things to bear in mind, as and when you start to hear the question, "What's our strategy for big data?".
First, knowing where you want to take your business is probably more important than finding a faster way to get there. Here's a checklist to work through before spending too much time on big data:
- Are we clear and aligned about where we're trying to get to?
- Can we see where having more, faster, and richer insights about our customers, our suppliers, or other key players in our world would help us get there more quickly?
- Do we have even a few clues about where in our processes "big data" might sit?
Second, success will depend mostly on the people element, not on the technology. Shvetank Shah, Andrew Horne, and Jamie Capellá, in "Good Data Won't Guarantee Good Decisions" point out that many managers don't have the data literacy needed to make good use of this new source of insight. Training and coaching on data usage can help, but there's a deeper issue. Relying too much on the data can make you blind to things that models can't capture. Equally, going entirely with your intuition can trap you in an outmoded view of the world. They argue that what's needed are "Informed Skeptics" who can balance analysis with intuition. And right they are. Building the skill (or habit) of bridging gut-level intuition with head-level analysis is going to be key not only for making "big data" work - but for the bigger task of setting direction in this fast-paced, unpredictable world.
Finally, a great "big data" tip from Dan Woods at Forbes: "I recommend enabling the largest amount of people with the cheapest and easiest tools....". Not a bad idea to adopt for "big data", and probably most other things.