Big Data: The Big Problems

It is hard to open a business publication or a tech magazine these days without reading an article about Big Data. The idea of being able to have unlimited insights into customers in real time to guide every decision is quite appealing.

The new technologies (Hadoop Mongo NoSQL and others) offer businesses the chance to analyze large amounts of unstructured information at a speed and scale that were not possible only a few short years ago.

Gartner’s predictions are bold: “Enterprises adopting the technology will outperform their competitors by 20% on every financial metric available,” they say.

Data is an important resource for marketers and businesspeople. It is well-documented that businesses have used data to improve their business. It is also true that the promise to have infinite insights is very attractive. You will encounter bumps along the way to the Promised Land. Big Data today is a technology, not a solution.

It would be best if you separated the hype from reality before you start a Big Data project. I can think of five challenges that prevent marketers from turning the Big Data hype into insight, value for business, and ultimately increased revenue.

Sources of Data

Many companies have difficulty getting “good” or “OK” data and, sometimes, even “some” information about their customers. You won’t be able to do much analysis if you can’t extract data from your system. I’ve worked at companies where the customer data was spread across 80 databases. With mergers and purchases, the dynamic nature of today’s business only makes it worse. Data integration is a problem in technology that Big Data cannot solve.

Finding Insights

You can’t find diamonds just because you have the most data. Data analysis without the right assumptions can lead to the wrong conclusion. Remember the lyrics of U2’s song: “We believed that we knew the answers, but it was our questions that were wrong.” It would be best if you asked the right questions in order to generate insights from huge amounts of data. What would you ask Big Data if you thought of it as a customer’s crystal ball?

Acting on Insights

The gap between insights and actions based on those insights is large. The majority of companies do not take the time to read or act on customer feedback. Many marketers do not use basic Web analytics in order to take action on insights they have had at their fingertips for many years. Are you willing to change your business model based on insights that you can generate through a Big Data project? Have you made a plan?

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We are still in the beginning. Big Data requires new tools for querying and reporting on data. In order to achieve the bright future of Big Data, we will probably need new data integration tools as well as new querying tools and dashboards. Software companies are investing in this area, so it is likely that the issue will be resolved soon.

The Data Trap

We make emotional decisions. Too much focus on data can be a problem. Steve Jobs would never have created an iPhone had he acted solely on data. Will you abandon your instincts and follow the crowd?

Harvard Business Review states that “human behavior is complex and nuanced, and data, no matter how robust, can only tell part of the story.” In order to understand motivation and desire, we need to consider psychological, cultural, and social factors. Data…reveals not only what people do but also why.

Now What?

Should businesses ignore Big Data, then? My answer would be a big no. Technology today offers exciting opportunities for businesses. You would be making a mistake if you didn’t try to use it.

Two things I recommend: don’t be blinded by the hype of Big Data. And, like any other initiative, it is more likely that you will find success if you approach the project with a clear understanding of the obstacles ahead. Perhaps Big Success. Who knows?

You can start by looking at any large, unstructured source of data. This is a data set that does not need to be integrated because it already exists in one place: Weblogs, sales data from multiple years, etc. Find a resource with experience in both the technology and the business processes of extracting insights from Big Data. They can also help you build an action plan.

You can learn more about your customers by picking up the phone. Computer analysis cannot convey the feelings, concerns, and dreams of customers that can be expressed in a conversation.

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