Celebrate The Marginal Gains Through Data

We should be celebrating small wins, not expecting big ones


When companies adopt new Big Data technology, people often expect the changes to be profound. They expect to be able to see everything about a customer or how to utilize technology to create a superior product.

Although sometimes this is the case the truth is often far less spectacular with only small gains seen, but not the full blown profit soaring aspects that many envisage.

Sometimes, this can create discontent as having a small impact on the way an individual or department works is not seen as a major win. People want huge spikes in their performance coming from their data programmes and creating small gains is not necessarily the most exciting improvement to see.

However, small gains are exactly what Big Data is about and it is something that should be celebrated, not chastised.

If anybody is seeing a big spike in performance from introducing Big Data it shows that they were not doing something correctly at all prior to the implementation. It also means that they have been missing out on key aspects of what creates success within their business, if anything it could point towards a previous ineptitude rather than a current win. It would make people question what they had been doing before to miss out on what was an obvious deficiency within their business.

What small gains show is that improvements are being made to a model that was already performing well. It is like fine tuning an engine that is already running well, by making it run a bit faster for a bit longer.

It is in marginal gains, made in multiple places over a long period of time, that create successful and sustainable growth for a company.

It is not only in business that data has been having a success in this way though. We have seen in sports that this same mantra has created domination in events such as the Tour de France. The idea of marginal gains in every part of a performance was exemplified in 2012 and 2013 by Team Sky, who won the yellow jersey in both years. Through looking in minute detail at every single part of a performance on a bike, they pinpointed where improvements could be made and made them, regardless of how small. This was everything from what was eaten for breakfast two days before an event started, to the kind of oil used on a bicycle chain.

Through looking at every one of these aspects in isolation and improving them, and looking at every piece of data related to these changes, the small gains made on each element of the performance, even if only a fraction of a percent, combined to create significant improvements as a whole.

This is what Big Data allows you to do as a business, create the small gains in every department that will combine to achieve a larger overall business objective. As a business creates data from almost everything it does, Big Data and data science can be used to look in microscopic detail at tasks, processes and individuals to help optimize each. As the process continues and the sources of data become more varied, the marginal gains will come from increasingly smaller fields, essentially fine tuning the fine tuning of your business.

The implementation of new Big Data technology is unlikely to be a sudden huge jump in how any company or department works, and this is something that should be celebrated. 


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