A Change in Perspective is in Order


Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

“I read a most interesting article about Big Data recently sir, passed on via Twitter by another business consultant,” I declared, beginning the latest conversation between The Effective Detective, and yours truly, Watson, his “virtual” (literally) assistant.

“I take it by the tone, you wish for me to read and comment upon said article,” replied The Detective. “Very well, please provide the link.”

“As you wish, sir: http://www.marketingprofs.com/charts/2013/9904/marketers-upping-the-ante-on-big-data-in-2013

I waited patiently while The Detective perused the article, curious to see his reaction. It did not take long, and he did not disappoint.

“Thank you Watson. I have rarely seen such a collection of well-meaning, well thought out, well researched, but largely useless words and charts in my career,” The Detective stated, giving me that slight smile that indicated he was both amused, and open to further discussion.

While I am used to The Detective’s somewhat caustic reactions to things that he does not see eye-to-eye on I was still taken a little aback by his reaction to what I thought had quite a bit of relevance to both our business and those of our clients. “I am not quite sure I understand your reaction sir,” I finally managed to splutter.

“Tut-tut Watson, you obviously referred me to this piece thinking it good news for us as marketers, since we deal in data, and also good news for our clients and readers as it gave some new avenues to pursue, and because the marketing tribe seems to be following the trend, it validates action in that direction. That the data is correct and well presented is not the issue,” The Detective both showed he understood my thinking, but letting me know that he saw a flaw. One that he was doubtless about to educate me on.

“And just what would the issue be, sir?” I asked, to move the conversation along.

The Detective paused, took a deep breath, then started in on his explanation.

“Watson, the issue is simple. Marketing-techno-babble like: ‘Companies are also starting to realize the need for real-time customer data flows to drive more personalized marketing campaigns’ is not only useless to the average small or medium business, it is dangerous. Reports such as these are done on, and for the most part aimed at, larger companies. How do you think a smaller organization feels when confronted with the text and graphs shown in this article?”

“I would tend to guess, inadequate to a degree. They most likely do not have the resources to pursue such projects, so they would tend to ignore the concepts discussed,” I answered.

“I could not have said it better myself Watson! When the use of data is presented in this manner, smaller concerns tend to turn away. They believe since they couldn’t possibly execute the kind of programs that are implied here, data analysis is only for larger businesses. Of course we know that nothing could be further from the truth!

“Every business of virtually any size, has data flowing in. Big Data is a misused term. Unfortunately, writing about simple databases and segmenting customer data across a few categories is not something most of these information sources wish to write about.  They wish to talk about Big Data in reference to the volume of data, when actually it can just as easily refer to the impact even a relatively small amount of data can have on a business,” The Detective summed up.

“Big things can still come in small packages, sir?” I said, not being able to resist the temptation.

“And you accuse me of being corny on occasion Watson? Nevertheless, I concur. It just depends on your perspective. Back to business now,” The Detective responded with a sideways look.

The Mystery of Big Data

Sometimes I feel as The Effective Detective’s virtual (literally) assistant, I am led by The Detective from one mystery straight into another.

“Watson, have you been reading the technical papers lately – in particular regarding the issue of ‘Big Data’?”  The Detective asked.

“Ah yes, there seems to be quite the fascination with it now.” I answered.

“As always Watson, most writers have missed the point, and while larger businesses might be able to afford to dally with all of the mumbo jumbo discussed, many small business people and entrepreneurs are being left out in the cold and are missing an amazing opportunity.” The Detective started, jabbing his pipe in my direction for emphasis.

“How so?” I asked, encouraging him on.

“Elementary, my dear Watson. As always, our friends in the technical press have over-complicated the issue. Perhaps to impress everyone with their knowledge of jargon, or perhaps to help their advertisers sell their extremely expensive analysis software and database systems.

“Data is data my dear Watson, whether it is the ocean that pours into the largest of businesses or the stream that flows quietly into a smaller enterprise. The primary issue is not discovering new and fancy ways to organize, store, and access it, although that can occasionally be useful,” he paused briefly, building my anticipation for the main point.

“The primary issue is understanding what it is you are trying to accomplish with your data be it ‘big’ or otherwise, of course! Collecting customer and sales data has one purpose: to help you make more sales. You need to choose the data that is most important for that goal, not what some consultant or writer has decided is a best practice.” The Detective shot out the last two words and made a face like he had eaten a lemon.

“If you know what you are trying to accomplish, a bloody spreadsheet may turn out to be a perfectly acceptable way to store and retrieve your data! The smaller enterprises need to forget about ‘Big Data’ and start thinking about ‘The Right Data’” he concluded.

“And how do they go about identifying this ‘Right Data’?” I queried.

“Ah, Watson, that is a mystery for another day. Brandy?” replied The Detective with a slight smile.