Big Data – I know, it’s that term again! But like it or not, it is here to stay – in 2015 and beyond. However, there is a change in the way big data is being discussed. Somehow people are no longer characterizing big data as the best thing to happen to the business world, and somehow big data no longer sits on the pedestal it once did. Businesses have come to understand that big data fails too.
Take the case of Tesco (British multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer), where numerous things went wrong, ultimately resulting in record losses. According to this article published on Harvard Business Review, the list of things that went wrong with Tesco includes an ill-fated foray into the U.S. market, operational flaws, and most of all, an unhealthy level of dependence on analytics. Here’s another article that debates whether you should listen to your user data or your quantitative data, and more recently, Forbes published an article that throws light on Data Wimps! There are many more recent articles that discuss various instances of big data failing decision makers. The common underlying theme of these articles is that businesses need to rethink the way they use big data to help them navigate challenges.
This brings us to an obvious question:why or how does big data fail?
Why big data fails
Here’s my take on this question:in more ways than just one, rather than big data failing us, we actually fail big data! In my previous post, “Big Data Consulting is a Social Beast”, I talked about how big data needs to be rooted in human sources and end with human output. Acknowledging the humans behind big data is the first step to making smarter decisions.
I still meet executives who think big data is all about having analysts use software tools to data mine and crunch cold facts to come up with a bunch of statistics that look amazing on paper. Let me state right now that there is nothing wrong with big data based on hard facts – there is use for this kind of data. However, data that is based just on numbers doesn’t quite add up in many real world situations. It is not the kind of big data that leaders should be relying heavily on for making tough decisions. Many business leaders and companies have failed to acknowledge and capture the very human side of big data, and at times, even their own instincts! As a result they have struggled to comprehend the true impact of their decisions. This is exactly where we have failed big data!
Now, call in your reinforcements
Now that things haven’t worked out as you planned, let’s take a step back or actually turn around for a bit. What do you see? People, your people, your human capital, your very own personal army of grey matter! This could be your team of doers or stakeholders who are closely associated with the task at hand. Capture their insights by asking the right questions. The kind of insights that you will obtain through the process will result in your best ideas – ideas that can turn things around in your company.
You now need to convert all these amazing insights into intelligence. You need a good platform for doing this – a platform that lets you ask the right questions, analyzes insights in a concise way, and provides you with actionable input. With the right platform, you will be able to spot gaps in your strategy, problem areas in your organizational structure, and even minor misalignments that may be causing major havoc!
It may sound complicated, but with the right tool, capturing people insight and analyzing it is easy. If you really think about capturing people insights and converting them into intelligence, it is actually a traditional process. Think about old-school organizations that held epic meetings and conferences to come up with a strategy and implementation plan. Those meetings worked, except they went on for hours or even days. Today, you are just making this tried and true process more efficient.
Don’t wait for disaster to strike
The saying “don’t fix it unless it’s broken,” may work for some things, but it doesn’t work in the business world. Here real people, real careers, and real lives are involved. Do not wait to call your reinforcements until your data has failed you. Instead, use your personal army to add in the human element to big data, input the data into a platform, analyze that data, and use the data to make wiser decisions. Be consistent about collecting and leveraging people insights for business.
I cannot say this is enough times – use people insights to build a sound strategy, use people insights for strong execution, and use people insights for sensible measurement of results and adjustment of strategy. Finally, make sure to add a good dose of human element to big data and you are golden!
Edwin has authored 9Lenses Insight to Action:A Social Approach to Business Optimization and Snapshot9 What’s Your Picture?:Accelerate Your Business Performance. Click here to download the first chapter of 9Lenses Insight to Action for free!