What you do as a business, when it comes down to it, is all about focus and choice. You decide what areas your business is going to focus on and then you target the resources you have to fill that customer need, problem or opportunity as you see fit. The vagaries of the market, regulation and how you perform then dictate how well you succeed or how badly you fail.
But how do you make those decisions?
Do you always use your head? Thinking with cold, rational logic about what needs to be done? Or do instinctual, gut based feelings guide the way? Might you overthink or procrastinate a problem into inaction or simply follow your gut based decision making wherever it leads because “you know it’s right”? Or you just don't have the time?
The context that we businesses operate in is even more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous than ever so making those core decisions about what you focus on and choose to do is increasingly difficult with an ever decreasing margin of error. Can you afford to get it wrong?
This is where data comes in...
Undoubtedly, your organisation has a lot of it. Gleaned from the sales ledgers, customer marketing campaigns, production stats, financial systems, phone systems, mobile apps and so on... all of this data can help provide insight; tell you which sales area is the most profitable; how much your widgets cost to produce and the size of those all important margins that keep you in gainful employment. But is it enough? Can you get access to the data you need in a timely and efficient manner to make those decisions when they need to be made, rather than after the event, where the glorious 20/20 vision of hindsight is … useless?
To make good decisions you need to be looking at data dynamically. Viewing the trends and trying to predict what’s likely to happen so that you can target your customers and position yourself ahead of the competition. But can you even get timely access to the data that you have or is it locked away in your transactional systems that requires the arcane knowledge of ICT to extract?
To compound the problem, the so called “small” data you have is only a tiny part of the overall picture so are you trying to make strategic choices with limited information? If you have the wrong subset of data you could end up making decisions that take you in completely the wrong direction.
However, lurking out in the internet there’s even more data. Masses of it. This so called BIG DATA is a huge mix of structured (think databases) and unstructured (think email or Twitter) information that is growing daily at increasingly faster rates (velocity, volume and variety in data speak). A quick scan through the data.gov website gives you access to over 25,000 data-sets and optimistically searching for “Where can I find large data-sets open to the public” brings up staggering amounts of data-sets from around the globe. Whether you need postcodes to map the location of your customers and optimise the travel times of your sales team or need to highlight burglary incidents (see police.gov) to help target your alarm sales there are huge opportunities presented by this data.
But, a note of caution. Getting access to and analysing this BIG DATA won’t give you certainty that something will absolutely, definitely happen (or not) but it can help indicate what is likely to happen and highlight unexpected relationships between data sets that might lead to new insights. So BIG DATA can, when used wisely, help to inform your decision making.
Before embarking on your BIG DATA project consider these points when choosing your decision support tools:
- How easy is it to use and, therefore, how well can you democratise access to data so that it doesn’t just fall to ICT to do?
- Will it enable you to ask questions and follow ideas? To hypothesise and see what story the data is telling you (i.e. to join up your own dots)
- BIG DATA is big (there’s a clue in the name), therefore, before you embark on your big data project understand what kinds of answers you’re looking for. Begin at the end.
- Then when you’re ready to begin do it small and work your way up.
With decision making you increasingly need to find the balance between your thinking head and your gut instinct. The opportunities presented by so called BIG DATA give your head some more insights to consider and your gut a little more to ruminate on. Get the balance right and you'll empower your business for growth for years to come. We call it a clear view, but then we would wouldn't we...