Focus on the Big Data That's Most Important


Big data is undeniably the way of the analytical future. While a lot of information can be gleaned from looking at select metrics over short periods of time, the really tantalizing stuff is what we can learn by looking at masses of data over much longer time periods, because the results are often way beyond anything we could intuitively imagine.

However, big data doesn't automatically mean better data and it's important to remember that there are reasons that we don't yet record everything about everything: because a lot of that data would be junk.

This is even more important when it comes to analytics in a company that hasn't really considered the applicability of its data before, or hasn't organized it in a manner that makes it all usable. Just because it has the hair color of every customer, doesn't mean it's going to be relevant to the business in the future. Figuring out what's important can be even harder if the data is largely unmanaged, with people either unable to give you access to all of it, or if they aren't able to help you understand it correctly.

There could even be petty office politics to circumnavigate in obtaining the data you need. Indeed some data may be siloed off from everything else, due to being part of an entirely different application, project, or team of individuals. Whether that data is worth retrieval is a major point to consider, as it's important not to open the flood gates and bundle all of it together just for the sake of it. Not all data is created equally and you could muddy what potential results you could find with more selective data usage.

So the focus should be about finding the right data, rather than all of the data, and several factors can come into play when doing that, much of which will be based on how well you know the business in question. As well as throwing out data that may be largely useless, other factors to consider include speed and cost, where ancient data centers may take a long time -- and potentially cost a lot of money depending on the impact of that transfer on the enterprise -- to access that information. If a quick turnaround is required, that data could be less useful than less applicable, but more readily available information.

Of course that won't always be the case, but it is worth bearing in mind when dealing with companies that are less familiar with cross-application data gathering.

Ultimately any company with its data hoarded away in different departments, with different access levels and antiquated hardware is going to conclude your interaction with a lot of recommendations for improvements, way beyond the results of the analytics you've offered them, but it's important to remember that whatever their drawbacks, be it too much, too little or just not the right type of data, the most important thing is to focus on the most actionable data.

The information that can really make a difference and most fits the customer's needs.

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Jon Martindale, Technology Journalist

Jon Martindale is a technology journalist and hardware reviewer, having been covering new developments in the field for most of his professional career. In that time he's tested the latest and greatest releases from the big hardware companies of the world, as well as writing about new software releases, industry movements,and Internet activism.

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Re: all data
  • 2/1/2015 4:54:10 PM
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@rbaz. I think the key to knowing what to keep and what to trash really comes down to knowing your business and what the company's goals are (short and longer term).

Re: all data
  • 1/31/2015 11:46:44 AM
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Tomsg, hence is the challenge for analytics professionals. One must grasp the business goals and nuances to be truly effective.

Re: all data
  • 1/31/2015 8:55:42 AM
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I agree. You have to know your business to understand what is truly important and what isn't.

Re: all data
  • 1/30/2015 2:47:32 PM
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understanding your business is key. Data is more or less applicable to different businesses and business models, which continually evolve. Knowing and anticipating future data needs and relevance is not as clear cut. When it comes to data, one man's junk may be another's gold mine.

Re: all data
  • 1/30/2015 10:07:04 AM
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@Jamescon, I am a strong believer in version control. I use SVN for that very reason, I want to make sure I am always working on the correct version of my work no matter which device I am on. I know that is not the exact intended use, but I find it works for me, this way I do not end up with duplicates of old versions of my data. 

Re: all data
  • 1/30/2015 9:21:03 AM
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@Phoenix. In general I'm an advocate for putting data through a form of triage to see how likely it is to have value down the road. Keep the "probably useful" and trash the "well may be useful". However, I do understand the feeling of security that comes with erring on the side of "keep it all". Nobody wants to be the admin who has to explain to the CEO -- or worse, to a judge -- why a 10 year old file is gone.

Re: all data
  • 1/30/2015 9:17:11 AM
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@bulk. What does the data hoarder in your think about starting with a good deduping program to get rid of copies 2 thru 20 of a file? I wonder what the result would be in the average company is we were able to get each document or file down to one, maybe two, copies. Managing all that data might be somewhat easier.

Re: all data
  • 1/30/2015 7:17:54 AM
NO RATINGS

@Phoenix, it is hard to let go. I always think there might be some value to be derived down the road.

Re: all data
  • 1/30/2015 7:17:41 AM
NO RATINGS

@Phoenix, it is hard to let go. I always think there might be some value to be derived down the road.

Re: all data
  • 1/30/2015 6:57:37 AM
NO RATINGS

@Bulk Collecting all the data you can and hoarding it all gives you a sense of security. It's really difficult to let go and concentrate on the most useful data. Identifying the data that is valuable and should be collected and what should be let go is going to be a difficult decision. But it is one that needs to be made.

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