The 6 Things We Are Sick Of Hearing About Big Data

We hear them all the time and we shouldn't need to


The spread of big data across the world has meant that more and more companies are adopting it. This adoption and the subsequent success that many have attributed to the practice has caused it to spread even more quickly, even amongst companies who do not necessarily fully understand it.

It has led to some familiar conversations in many companies. In our conversations with several who work in data, we have pinpointed to 6 most frustrating things we hear all too often and why these should never be uttered again.

‘It hasn’t done much’

A big data implementation is not there to completely change a business or revolutionize the ways that a company does business. In fact, the practice itself is never going to make money, it doesn’t sell or make anything. Instead, saying ‘it hasn’t done much’ is simply a case of one of two things.

Firstly, it may be that the implementation is in its infancy and has yet to be able to provide the truly revolutionary outputs that many companies work from. It takes a while for this to take place as, if something obvious comes up in the data, it should probably have been implemented anyway. Nobody is going to learn much from a system that tells us that a coat company does better in cold conditions, for instance. Instead, company leaders need to give it time to find the nuggets that can have a real impact instead of complaining that its not working.

Secondly, there could simply be a flaw in the organizational structure that means that leaders either don’t know how to make a change or are unwilling to trust the data. The bond that many successful company executives have with their ‘gut feeling’ is hard to break, even when they have considerable amounts of data to show that they are wrong. If the data is showing something that they disagree with, it isn’t that it isn’t doing anything - that accusation should only be leveled at those unwilling to act on it.

‘We need more data’

‘Data is the new currency’ is something that we have heard time and time again over the past few years. If you look at this at a superficial level, you can see that Facebook, Google, and Amazon have some of the world’s largest databases and are some of the most successful companies in the world. Therefore, more data equals better results.

This has never been and will never be the case. It isn’t like money, where the more you have, the better you will be, it is about having the correct data at the time you need it. For instance, if somebody is doing an analysis of buying habits over different times of the year, they do not need huge amounts of data initially, they just need to see what was bought and when. It could have a far more profound impact on your profits than collecting petabytes of data across every possible metric and then trying to find some kind of correlation that may exist within it.

Company leaders need to concentrate on getting the right data, not simply getting more of the same.

‘I’ve used it for decades’

It is true that databases have been around for years. In fact, look back at Greek tablets outlining sales and you technically have a database. Most leaders have talked about using big data for a long time, yet many still simply don’t understand what it is.

You may have a record of sales, addresses, or even a basic CRM system to track responses, but that is simply data. Big data is the collection of large amounts of data, from multiple sources and today often with real-time analysis. Updating a spreadsheet once per week or being able to see what was said in an email thread is not the same.

‘Get IT to do it’

Big data is not something that you can just pawn off to an existing department. Many people think that it’s something your IT department can do because it involves computers, servers and databases. However, taking this approach would be like getting a Formula 1 mechanic to drive the car in Grand Prix. They can certainly fix the car and make it run far better than anybody else, but they are more likely to crash it than win a race when asked to use it properly.

It requires a specific skill set to fully utilize big data technologies and the data used within them. It isn’t belittling the essential work that IT departments do, but they have IT skills, which may touch on a fraction of what is needed in big data, but is never going to reap the rewards needed.

‘We need a data scientist’

On the other end of the scale, many leaders read about data scientists and think that they absolutely need one for their big data to work for them. However, data scientists earn huge amounts of money for a reason - they are rare.

A data scientist is simply someone who can do everything a team can do, only they can do it by themselves. So you don’t necessarily need a data scientist, you can employ a team who can do the same job.

‘We want quick results’

Data is not a quick fix or something that will bring results instantaneously, it is something that needs to mature and develop in order to maximize ROI. Too many company leaders today expect it to have an instant return because of the success that companies have had with it.

The truth is that the best actionable insights that come from data take much longer than some would like, causing frustration and a lack of faith in the long-term process. Leaders need to understand this and give the team a certain amount of leeway before passing any judgment on their effectiveness, otherwise the benefits of the programme will never show themselves. 

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