For 2017: Put Data, Big or Small, Into Action


I may not have been right, but I just hope that, in the long term, I'm not wr, wr, wr... You know, the opposite of right. A year later, I still believe that it's time to kill -- or at least limit -- "big data" as a buzzword.

We need to be talking about "analytics" first, and remember that big data as just a subset of that field.

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

Just over a year ago, I wrote that we need to talk less about big data, and focus more on the role of analytics in Big Data the Buzzword Heads for the Dumpster. My hope was that marketers and others would care less about the three, now four, "Vs" and more about what you can do with it.

Big data, small data, mid-sized data all feed into analytics. What the business world has to get straight isn't the fact that they need tons of data from many sources. Rather, they need to get used to relying on data in their decision processes, managing their organizations, and serving their customers.

Looking through some of the previews of what's happening in the tech and general business sectors in 2017, there are a few signs that I'm not standing alone on an island with my belief. I've been seeing published references to "small data" and how an emphasis on "big data" can distract companies or even present security and privacy risks. Good start!

It's encouraging as well that more business managers are embracing data-driven decision making. Yet, we still have a long way to go before we reach the point where those managers assume that data will always be on hand when they face decisions or craft strategies. We still have a long way to go before people stop saying, "We need big data", when what they really need is an analytics capability.

A true sign of analytics maturing won't just be when data is available and welcomed. It won't be when business managers blindly trust everything the analytics team feeds them. Our analytics strategies will be grown up when availability of data is built into our workflows, when you don't have to go looking for "some data" but the "right data" is on hand when you need it. You will blend data with experience to make good decisions. Data will be ingrained in processes.

Big data as a concept isn't dead, and it holds great potential, as my associate, Jessica Davis pointed out in Most Analytics Opportunities Untapped, McKinsey.

Consider the truly big data applications that simply make sense. There's the insurance application that might surf social media posts by customers to see whether a supposedly good driver is an active participant in street drag racing. There are the retail applications that might analyze customer support calls or discussion threads for consumer anger.

However, such applications don't serve a purpose unless a company can put the data into action by managers or front line workers. What happens if you discover street racing videos or customers dropping angry swear words on support lines? Saying "That's not very nice" isn't the end-all solution.

Big data the buzzword still leads analytics teams and managers down the wrong path, where they search for too wide a variety of data sources, and where they collect more data than they can possibly use/analyze/act on.

For 2017, let's advance analytics initiatives that focus on finding the right data, making it available to staff and customers who can take action on it, and then use the positive results to place data at the heart of our business plans for the long term.

James M. Connolly, Editor of All Analytics

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editor of All Analytics he writes about the move to big data analytics and data-driven decision making. Over the years he has covered enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, the rise of web-based business, and IT management. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. Throughout his tech journalism career, he has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through publications including Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups and the Boston-area venture capital sector at MassHighTech. A former crime reporter for the Boston Herald, he majored in journalism at Northeastern University.

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Re: No more big data
  • 1/10/2017 12:33:13 PM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT I remember interviewing a professor at Bentley who was the only one who defined Big Data as the data alone -- that is distinct from the analytics. But he knew that most peopel were not that precise in their use of hte term.

Re: No more big data
  • 1/10/2017 9:57:56 AM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT. Good point about the amount of time spent preparing data. That won't be helped by the "big data mentality" that says companies need to collect and save everything just in case it might be needed some day. It's a thought process that assumes that storage infrastructure and data management capabilities are without limits.

Re: No more big data
  • 1/10/2017 8:26:24 AM
NO RATINGS

"We still have a long way to go before people stop saying, "We need big data", when what they really need is an analytics capability."

I think that the reason we have such a hard time shaking this is that "Big Data" is the cool term to throw around for analysts. Analytics is one of the fundamentals of business so having something new and exciting helps bring attention back to the field.  I've spent more time in the past year working with ETL and data consolidation which isn't new but is very powerful for the company I'm in.  Maybe we need a push and a new term for useful data management and we can get some attention put into the areas that most analysts live. 

No more big data
  • 1/6/2017 4:36:25 PM
NO RATINGS

I agree completely- let's lose the term big data. Data is only data- comnclusions can only be drawn from analtyics of some type. I think ther term big data do not imply intelligence or thought. Gib data= big mess.

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