Leveraging the benefits of ‘Big Data’


‘Big Data’ has become this year’s corporate buzzword for the almost infinite amount of information that can be gleaned from activity on the internet. The ability to track, compartmentalise and evaluate everything from online purchases to the latest Twitter trending topics, offers massive opportunities for real-time intelligence about responses to products, services and even political decisions.

However, with the volume of data being generated on a minute-by-minute basis, how can companies leverage the benefits of ‘big data’ whilst avoiding paralysis by analysis?

In reality, the majority of valuable ‘big data’ relates to what is being said about an organisation across a range of websites such as Amazon, Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouGov. Data is generally end-user generated and companies want to listen to what is being said about them and then leverage this for marketing or reputation management purposes. Often this touches on issues of freedom of speech or ascribing values to an infinite number of opinions.

The right stuff

The greatest challenge is picking the ‘right’ data. It’s easy to find enough data to validate any hypothesis being presented.  There is a danger that organisations or individuals can simply select the data that best fits their cultural or personal view of the market. This can go spectacularly wrong without rules and limits and can lead to people being spectacularly fired!

Getting data use right and tapping into the appropriate data zeitgeist can have enormous benefits. Ensuring there are other key members of the organisation that support and validate your, or the organisation’s opinion, is a positive approach. The speed of change in this aspect of data is massive and requires a cautious eye.

‘Free’ is a four letter word

Be careful what you wish for when sourcing data which is ‘free’. There are an increasing number of ‘big data’ sources available to providers – and thus their customers - and some are more public than others. In many cases it’s a matter of caveat emptor because often companies are sourcing data directly.

Increasingly, Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc are offering easily accessible data from their users or customers, while the likes of Oracle and SAP are working hard to catch up with Apache’s HADOOP open source software for analysing the data itself.

Still, leveraging the most benefit from ‘big data’ requires organisations having the correct audits in place and this remains largely subjective as the ‘rules’ are currently being formulated to a great extent.The audit process requires thought in understanding where preferred sources are located, ascribing confidence limits, testing the data and building rules to validate the way the data is used. A fair amount of this process will be based on existing rules created for the use of existing, in-house data.

Changing cultures

Once sure of the data source, organisations using ‘big data’ effectively have to be prepared to be flexible and rapidly evolve their business model. The culture becomes that of a dynamic, innovating brand – or department - which will ultimately sell more, more profitably, or deliver more effective services. However, they also need to be prepared to make mistakes and kill-off more quickly products and services that aren’t working, taking care not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

‘Big data’ allows organisations to incubate ideas and test them rapidly before they’re introduced to the mainstream product brand.Car manufactures are doing this frequently with prototypes, seeking ideas from potential customers. However, governance is critical in terms of how far you listen and to whom.

Eddie Short is a Partner at KPMG Management Consulting

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