How Businesses Have Gotten Lost in the Big Data Maze

Most of us are familiar with the phrase “It’s not the thing; it’s the thing that gets you to the thing”. We say this to describe a significant tool or product that, while critical to our goals, has little or no specific assignable value on its own. Think of the role a spark plug plays in an engine… it has one simple job but if it doesn’t do it correctly at the right time, the engine won’t fire on all cylinders, causing the whole car not to function properly.

Those of us that have been in the marketing world for a while are used to seeing initiatives that should be part of a comprehensive and holistic marketing plan become darlings that occupy center stage for a while when they should be part of the supporting cast. Social media, content marketing, email, SEO, and many more have artificially claimed the spotlight and eventually fallen into their rightful place in the cast. “Big Data” is currently bogarting the limelight as the latest “thing”, but is that even what we need? Or, do we need a software platform that ensures that we remain competitive that improves our ability to focus on our core businesses?

As an industry, we don’t need a “big data” solution. Even the largest developers don’t work with the requisite quantities of data to be considered “Big Data”. Let’s pause for a moment and examine exactly what “Big Data” is:

“Big data” usually describes data sets with sizes beyond the ability of commonly used software tools to capture, curate, manage, and process data within a tolerable elapsed time. Big data “size” is a constantly moving target, as of 2012 ranging from a few dozen terabytes to many petabytes of data. Big data requires a set of techniques and technologies with new forms of integration to reveal insight from datasets that are diverse, complex, and of a massive scale.

1 Petabyte is approximately the complete storage capacity of 7,812 128 GB iphones. Do you know who measures data in Petabytes? The NSA… and they have every email, phone call, and Google search by 300+ million people for the last ten years on file.

Here’s an example we can all remember from a few years ago:

Instead of viewing social media, as a meaningful way to engage customers, attract new customers and retain existing customers — LEADING to greater sales; many companies made the mistake of making a great social media campaign their goal. Simply put, they made it “the thing”, not “the thing that gets you to the thing”.

The twist on this old but predictable trend for the past couple of years has been a disproportionate amount of resources going into the thing that drives all of this… our data. Companies big and small have poured huge sums of money into the most complex and labor-intensive Business Intelligence systems that engineers can come up with. Many of these are the same companies that just ten years ago were writing six-figure checks to “social media consultants” and Search Engine Optimization companies. Full disclosure, of course, we at TrackResults are in favor of companies’ dedicating resources to Business Intelligence software, but we encourage everyone to remember that the goal is always effective use of your data to increase efficiency, decrease waste, and ultimately increase your profits.

The “thing” so to speak, is “more money in your bank account”. The thing that gets you there is software that easily and efficiently absorbs, sorts, and reports on your data without requiring expensive care and feeding. Business Intelligence can be a complex undertaking without first determining what your company expects a new tool to do. Remember, companies that offer these tools are in business to make money just like the rest of us and signing a client up for their software is the first sale, not necessarily the only sale.

If we remember that the ultimate goal, as always, in business is to increase profits, we are required to look at BI software as a necessary tool rather than a trophy or a luxury purchase.

Consider the following questions:
• If it doesn’t create new revenue that wouldn’t have been realized without it, will it still be a wise purchase?
• Will adoption by my entire staff be enthusiastic or forced?
• Are there ancillary costs associated per month? Per user? Per report? For support?
• What is the process for when we need a new report created?
• If my product offering, sales procedures or staff members change, will we have to start over at square, and dollar one?

Just as was the case with every other new technology from websites to search engines to social media, there are a lot of companies taking advantage of the fact that this can be a very complicated and confusing subject. The old “I could explain it to you, but you wouldn’t understand” attitude is rearing its ugly head again and companies who understand the technology but not its users are making a fortune.

We’ve seen this before and we will see it again… powerful and necessary emerging technology, offering boundless potential to improve your business that has been developed faster than our collective understanding of how it works. Unfortunately, this often leads to buying decisions based on style (or promises) over substance and paying for tools that we either don’t need or don’t fully understand.

Once again, we find ourselves lost in a circular maze of having great tools because they are great tools rather than having the correct tools that accomplish the present work at hand and can adapt to whatever unforeseeable tasks present themselves in the future. This isn’t a new situation, in fact business is fraught with such mazes. All that is new in this circumstance is the path that tricks us into entering the same old familiar situation. The good news in this most recent case is that Business Intelligence is an internal discipline so mistakes and/or adjustments are made privately, without broadcasting them to your customers or competitors.

Business Intelligence software is great and if you aren’t using it, you will be soon, but just like any other powerful tool since the advent of the personal computer:

When selecting software tools, try to remember…It’s not the thing, it’s the thing that gets you to the thing.