There’s a lot of talk about ‘Big Data’, it’s certainly the 2013 buzz with firms EMC2, IBM, Oracle even Adobe speaking louder than most.
But what does it actually mean?
When you get past the spin, hype and bluster, Big Data is actually a simple proposition. It’s about accessing and consolidating data from multiple data sources, and delivering insights that improve the way an organisation delivers products and services to consumers. So what’s so ‘big’ about that?
The fact that organisations have been mining data, building customer profiles and driving data insight to inform business decision, media selection, R&D is nothing new. Back in the 70’s the Oakland A’s baseball team famously pioneered player data and used it to boost performance. And we all know how much distance Tesco were able to put between them and their competitors due to the way they gathered and managed data from their Clubcard programme.
Today, more than ever before, we’re able to collect and store vaster amounts of data as people spend more time in online environments – from blogs, email, social media, even photographs – and as a result there has been rapid growth in the application of statistical and mathematical algorithms to try and make some sense of it.
The volume and breadth of data available today can be mind-boggling and therein lays the danger for businesses. It’s no longer a case of how can we find out about consumers, but what do we need to know about them. There is a real risk of being buried under Big Data, looking for granular insights that miss the big picture, and side step the things that change perception, alter behaviour, get people to buy – a case of catching the pennies and missing the pound.
In a recent article Steve Lohr, Technology Editor of the New York Times, voiced concerns that using algorithms to find patterns in human behaviour can over simplify, attributing a nice clean number to human behaviour, interest and preferences which can be anything but*. This leaves little room for intuition and common sense. Looky-likey syndrome, pigeon holing customers, labelling behaviour as tribal has and will lead to faux targeting.
In a world of social media empowerment, where individuality floats, it’s ironic that Big Data is taking such hold. Sometimes we forget that the power of analytics lies solely in the relevance of the questions we ask, not the detail we’re able to extract.
*New York Times, 29 December 2012