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Mar 6

If Big Data is the Goal, How Will You Know When You Are There?

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Or even how to get there? Your business problem isn’t “Big Data”. Your business problem may be acquiring more customers, better understanding your customers’ needs, optimizing your distribution channels or any number of the challenges (and opportunities) that exist for businesses today. With data you may be able to better address these, in amazing and inspiring new ways, but data isn’t the problem so it can’t be the goal.

That there is significant value to be gained through data (of any size), is no longer a topic of debate. On any given day, one can find conferences, articles or webinars sharing the state of the “big data” industry and the massive potential available for all through the active use and leveraging of data. Often the tone is one of urgency and seems to imply that everyone else is pretty far down the data road. It’s easy to see why people start simply chasing data, afraid they’ll be left behind. They have to get moving, have a data initiative and demonstrate they are using data in their decision-making processes. Get access to piles of data, hire a few individuals, bring in new software and get going. And wait to start reaping the benefits that have been promised. The benefits of what? To what?

What will be improved or optimized? What hypotheses are you looking to explore or operation are you looking to streamline? Who should be benefiting from the outcomes, making different decisions and changing their behaviors? What processes need to be changed to reflect these new ways to make decisions?

It is true that data is more challenging today than ever. Disparate data sets, exponential growth, an endless parade of new technologies, difficult to predict threats to security and the demand for continuous innovation make managing and leveraging data increasingly more challenging. Access and reporting is the easy part. Learning how to apply the outcomes of working with data, to be data-driven, isn’t a journey with a single path, but instead one with multiple concurrent paths. Iteratively and concurrently gaining competencies in the areas of Customer, Data, Technology, Organization and Application requires more than a few people and software packages. Jumping into a data initiative, regardless of the size, without the right perspective, objectives, plans and resources will result in an initiative that at its best will cost far more than it should and at its worst be deemed a failure (and put the organization further behind).

There isn’t any reason to panic. Sure, there are organizations out in front, but most are just getting started. While many may have been working with data for years, only a few are very far down the data path. While a few organizations can see their way to Analytics 3.0, most are still working through 1.0 (and some are still working to get there).  Many are sitting on legacy systems, data, and software and working with organizational infrastructures and reward systems built for a different time. Most are short on budgets, time and importantly the resources necessary throughout the organization to envision and execute a data-driven strategy.

And really, all of that has been okay…until now.  While it may have felt a bit frantic and challenging over the past few years, most businesses have been able to stay with their markets and find spaces and paths for growth. But, it’s getting more difficult and more expensive to deliver the same results. Seismic market, technology and consumer shifts are changing how businesses connect, compete and build their revenues. It isn’t fully here just yet, but soon it will be impossible to deliver growth in the ways we have in the past. There is chasm that is opening and without change many will get left on the wrong side. Companies must begin to know and respond to their customers in more robust and responsive ways than they ever have before. They must know what to stop doing, what to start doing and what to do better with their customers and with their operations.

So back to the question, if data (of any size) isn’t your goal. What is? Ask questions and build your plan, objectives and measurement around the answers. Why, What, Where and How will your organization be better, faster, more relevant, more effective, and more productive by the leveraging of data? What data is already available within the company to make that happen? Start in that space, be focused and be prepared to keep going.

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