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

Still standing by a prediction that big data as a buzzword will die as we turn our focus to the analytics, not the scale of the data.

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.

Just over a year ago, I wrote that we need to talk less about big data, and focus more on the role of analytics. 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.

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.

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Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek