Why bother about Big Data when we hardly know how to manage our own data?

When we speak about Big Data we’re making reference to massive and complex volume of data sets. In fact, it has always existed, but because of the boom of mobile devices, internet connectivity, social networks and digital processes, the size of these data sets has grown exponentially.

Once captured and stored, its analysis and visualization can be useful to create predictive models, such as Google Flu Trends, that uses search terms to predict the spread of the flu virus. Companies can also use this huge volume of data to better understand customers and their preferences. This is the case of Tesco, a British supermarket chain which earned consumers loyalty thanks to a more personalized marketing.

Google Flu Trends I United States - www_google_org_flutrends_intl_en_us_us_#US

Learn to walk before you can run

It is clear that Big Data has multiple potential applications which we just have begun to see. Big Data could help us to manage our companies, cities and services in ways we can hardly imagine. However, how many companies are able to use -and pay for- this information?

I’m not saying that Big Data isn’t important, but it’s only within the reach of a very specific group of companies and institutions. How can we speak about Big Data when most companies barely know why and how to use traditional data derived from their own activity? More than 99% of all European businesses are SMEs. Are they really ready to manage this amount of information? Perhaps we should learn to walk before we run.

Some companies are already using Big Data, though in limited fields and for very specific goals. These companies usually make important investments in innovation and they’re willing to take risks. However, many other companies (the vast majority of them) aren’t able to capture, search, storage, analyze or visualize their own data. They don’t even understand the role of information in decision making. Before Big Data we should take care of “My Data”.

What is My Data?

The first time I heard this expression was in a marketing conference. Jean Marc Colanesi, professor at ESIC, was introducing the next keynote and he said something like that, in fact, the real revolution wasn’t Big Data but My Data.

My Data could be described as a collection of data sets that can be captured and analyzed using affordable database and software techniques accessible to most companies. Generally, this data is derived from their own activity, but it also can come from external sources.

Although compared with Big Data it may seem insignificant, My Data is still is its early days since reality shows us that most of companies don’t know yet how to extract meaningful value from this information.

  • Employees are unable to create Excel pivot tables or use basic functions.
  • Access is in many cases used as an Excel spreadsheet.
  • Despite the increasingly widespread use of CRM, this tool is in many cases used to accumulate information that never will be analyzed. Employees, who don’t understand its usefulness, consider that it’s only a waste of time and companies don’t have qualified staff in-house to manage it.
  • Email marketing is usually reduced to a mass mailing without resorting to solutions that would allow them tracking the performance of campaigns and segmenting subscribers according to their preferences.
  • Companies are blind regarding their website performance. Free tools like Google Analytics are unknown or underused.
  • Social networking analytics tools are often seen as geek’s gadgets.

Big Data and My Data can coexist, but as long as most of companies do not have the means, capabilities and skills to manage My Data, the use of Big Data will be limited to a few.