Start small with big data

This is a guest blog by Allen Bonde, VP of product marketing and innovation, Actuate. In it he explains his view that we need to think ‘small’ when it comes to ‘Big’ Data.


Big Data is big business. But it may also be heading for a stumble, even with all its hype. That should alert us to the reality that Big Data sometimes presents big problems. After all, Big Data is only useful if it offers the business something marketing, finance or sales (i.e. non-data-scientists) can apply to business objectives.


So what is ‘Small’ Data? At its simplest, it’s the alerts or answers gleaned from Big Data that are most meaningful to the broadest set of users. Furthermore, as I’ve defined it before, Small Data involves packaging insights visually (say, via dashboards or an infographic) so they are accessible, understandable, and actionable for everyday tasks.


It’s an approach that takes its inspiration from consumer apps and the observation that the best digital experiences are inherently simple, smart, responsive and social.


In practical terms, that means we need to pay closer attention to the content we have already captured, by exploring its applicability for supporting specific business scenarios, and delivering the resulting insights on every relevant channel, in a friendly, sharable format.


To understand why the Small Data movement is gaining traction, let’s consider what factors are at play:


  • Big Data is tricky. Doing it right – i.e. with a big payoff – may take longer than the business can wait. What’s more, the majority of marketers don’t need the masses of Big Data to run their campaigns; they need differentiating insights that allow them to personalise offers to customers.
  • Small Data is ‘on trend.’ Small Data thinking helps to democratise the way apps are constructed. This is not mainstream yet, but it is rapidly becoming the preferred route of travel for IT today.
  • Small Data is all around us. Think about the vast amount of personalised data feeds available already, especially as more devices get wired up and more consumers shop and share within social networks like Facebook. And think of apps like Kayak’s “When to Book” travel tool that tells you whether that too-high fare might fall within the next week. To create a complete picture of customers, we need to combine insights from these social channels along with Web analytics and transactional data. These rich datasets will be the centre of a new customer experience based not on only on Big, but also on Small Data – the data that’s relevant to the task of personalised marketing.
  • Small Data is buzzing. Software vendors such as Adobe, IBM, SAP – and Actuate – now promote the relevance of the movement in industry forums and blogs.
  • Small Data focuses on the user. Big Data is still the domain of techies. Yet, to drive adoption, we need a platform that enables experiences that are easy to use, smart, scalable, and visually appealing for non-techies.

If you focus back on the customer and ‘think small,’ you can sidestep many of the Big Data trip wires – and deliver the useful, interactive data-driven apps your organisation needs today.


You can follow Allen Bonde on Twitter at @abonde.