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
  • 2/2/2017 1:31:35 PM

@Silvon. I wonder what percentage of analytics projects take the "ready shoot aim" approach of running the numbers and then trying to figure out what to do with them. I'll bet the percentage is pretty high, particularly when it is the first project in an analytics initiative and failure simply poisons the water for future projects.

Re: No more big data
  • 2/2/2017 12:53:48 PM

"When the data sits underutilized, corporate finger pointing ensues. Business leaders blame the data science team. The data science team blames the business unit." etc.

Reminds me of "Success has many fathers, Failure is an orphan."

If a data initiative doesn't work out, you can bet it will be hard to find someone who admits they are responsible for the failure.

Re: No more big data
  • 2/1/2017 1:23:29 PM

"When the data sits underutilized, corporate finger pointing ensues. Business leaders blame the data science team. The data science team blames the business unit. Management concludes that data science is a fraud. In reality, everyone has to think about how data needs to flow through an organization, who gets what type of report, what types of problems data can solve, who needs to get alerts when an application highlights an issue, and maybe who backs up that person when they are out of the office."


Data science can benefit everyone in an organization, as long as they all understand how it can be utilized. There's nothing worse than data that sits, waiting to be analyzed and interpreted. It's up to each organization to define how the data will be distributed and what everyone's role is. 

Re: No more big data
  • 1/18/2017 8:03:15 AM

The word "big" is one we see everyday in advertising and everyone wants now the biggest of everything. Remember the Sears catalog items marked good, better and best? I wonder what happened to that idea? Getting to "finding the right data, making it available to staff and customers who can take action on it," is most likely how we might want to think about analytics instead of big and bigger.

Die buzz die
  • 1/14/2017 3:01:41 PM

I agree about killing the buzz of it.

Or, to put the problem another way:

1: "Big Data can solve our problem!"
2: Bad implementation.
3: Bad data.
4: New problem.
5: "Big Data can solve our problem!" tedium...

Re: No more big data
  • 1/12/2017 6:03:57 PM

"...He also stressed that with the hype over big data, people would misapply the term to what is actually just data to sound more with it."


@Ariella    Interesting.  Sounds like this professor has a real understanding of how people function in the "real world".   Quite often those in academia are charged with not understanding how the "real world" works -  certainly not the case here.

Re: No more big data
  • 1/12/2017 2:49:58 PM

@Louis900 The way he puts it, he's been doing this for a very long time, so he's quite confident about his terms. He also stressed that with the hype over big data, people would misapply the term to what is actually just data to sound more with it. That is not to say that small data is not important, he stresses that it is still very useful and not to be overlooked.

Re: No more big data
  • 1/12/2017 1:29:11 PM

@Ariella     An impressive call by that Bentley professor - just goes to show he was not pressured by outside forces - meaning a Marketing department.

Re: No more big data
  • 1/12/2017 1:26:31 PM

@tomsg    I agree.  I think the term Big Data just muddles the issue.   Data is Data.  But the marketing department needs to show their worth and thus we get the term "Big Data".  

Re: No more big data
  • 1/12/2017 1:22:44 PM

@James    That is a great point about storage.  Although Enterprises might not be concerned about this, SMB's surly are.   Even though storage has come down in price, when you are talking about endless terabytes - it can become quite costly.  A cost SMB's must be concern with.

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