2014-14-August-Big-Top.jpgBig Data isn’t as big as Big Data Hype. Yes, big data is doing some pretty cool stuff out there. But things are getting frothy. Can big data cure cancer? Will big data destroy privacy? Big data will yield millions in revenues! It is easy to feel like you have to jump onto big data now or you’re likely to get left behind.

Here’s the rub: big data won’t do any of these things. Highly skilled clinicians and biochemists will cure cancer. Bad privacy policies and poor data security will destroy your privacy. And skilled business people will find ways to capture millions in revenues. Yes, big data will help. But the machines can’t do it alone.

Large enterprises are trying to catch the big data wave by buying the technologies (focusing first on storage capabilities, not analytics) and taking a “let’s store all the data we can until we figure out what it might be good for” approach. The myth that drives this behavior is that somehow, magically, big data will sift through all that information and produce gold. What drives this behavior is big companies know they don’t know what to do with that data and they can make the ROI numbers work by replacing other storage options, like tape backup.

SMBs don’t have the luxury of building data lakes and hoping. And that’s a pretty silly strategy anyway. It’s analogous to owning a library full of books you never plan to read. Big data absolutely is a cool new tool, but it really doesn’t change how you apply analytics to your business. SMBs can use big data, but only if they're highly pragmatic in their approach.

Mind Your Business

The trick to using data to drive business performance comes down to one key factor: understanding your business model.

Where are the key leverage points in your business? If you knew more about your customers’ preferences, what could you do about it? If you could monitor a key process, could you optimize it? Is there information you have that you could deliver to a customer or partner that would make your product or service more valuable?

Answering these questions will help you identify where big data might generate an insight that you can act on to create value. If you can’t think of an interesting question to ask that could lead to value creation, you don’t need any data, much less big data.

Bootstrap

My best analytics projects have always started with no budget. No new technology, no new staff … just get started with what you already have. Once you have identified an interesting question, start trying to answer it with the resources you have on hand. Find the person in the business who knows and cares the most about the problem you’re working on. Find the most data-savvy person you can find inside your organization. Don’t hire a PhD data scientist just yet.