Big data: it’s amazing how two small words in the English language have found such great resonance in the world of business. Moreso how every vendor is seemingly trying to jump on the big data bandwagon to promote their offering that may (or in some cases may not) have something to do with large, complex and untamely data volumes. But let’s not get sidetracked here. By all means go bonkers about big data: take customer data and your corporate information, add in some of the unstructured variety, mix it up with social network feeds, centralize it on hardware, even put it in the cloud – but remember that it is not a question of how much or how complex your big data volumes are, it’s what you do with it that ultimately counts. Put another way, it’s one thing to collect and store umpteen amounts of data, it’s quite another thing to mine and analyze it and make something out of it that you can turn into value.
Some may pontificate over whether big data can be summed up by the “3 Vs” (volume, variety, velocity) or the “3 Is” (immediate, ill-defined, intimidating) not to mention those that then try to outsmart each other by finding other words beginning with either V or I to continue the now tedious debate (variability, volitilty, inordinate, insurmountable etc), but they’re missing the point: the smart businesses out there don’t get bogged down in trying to define the term, they get on with the task of turning it into commercial advantage. While others debate, the clever businesses take action and get on with it.
But who is doing it? Data aggregators and information service providers are two types of companies whose business models fundamentally depend on data. They don’t just store it; they depend on it to power and run their business. Consequently, they have seen the opportunity to turn big data into commercial value and many have grasped it with both hands, whether it be social network sites, gaming companies or SaaS vendors. And their use cases vary from one to the other: many are web-based companies that take user data and correlate it with advertising data in order to attract more advertisers to part with their dollars in an attempt to get the right, targeted message to the right audience in a non-obtrusive manner. Others are specialists in taking data feeds from a plethora of sources and then allow users to access and interrogate it in order to drive business. A good example here is those service providers in retail that take EPOS data from grocery chains and then allow CPG vendors to access that data and interrogate it in order to improve customer satisfaction, increase spend and build loyalty. Likewise, shipping companies broker the best courier deals for end-users by collating large data volumes from freight companies. Media companies analyze viewing habits data and allow advertisers to run commercials at the optimum time. The list goes on.
In summary, the data explosion continues to take the business world by storm and it would be foolish to play down its significance when trying to understand it. But in the main, it’s not the size that counts; it’s what you do with it. So, by all means, go bonkers over big data. Try to tame the big data tsunami, if you dare. But make sure you put your energy into where it counts the most – in analytics and enabling commercial action.