Big Data or Better Data

Big Data is a hot topic and it isn’t going away any time soon.  As we are able to access more and more data, particularly on customers and their behaviours, understanding how to use the data effectively, is as appropriate now as it ever has been.

But for many companies “Big Data” is a long way off, as they struggle to manage, maintain and use their existing data sets to effectively enhance the service their customers receive. In many cases, before they can even think about big data, companies need to consider the basics of good data management and developing robust data governance and rules.

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Whilst cloud based solutions offer almost unlimited data access and storage, the old adage “Shit in, Shit out” still holds true. Underinvestment in data maintenance continues to be an ongoing problem, often resulting in timely, costly and sometimes embarrassing data-led errors.

Accurate data, regularly cleansed, checked and maintained offers a host of opportunity and requires a lot less investment than “Big Data”. It allows for effortless data mining, timely and meaningful customer communications, predictive analytics and process improvement. However, many organisations still fail to recognise the value of investing in a data strategy. One organisation I worked with had three different numbers for their total customer base, depending upon which set of data you referred to. Even more worryingly, no one in the organisation knew which of these numbers was right.

What companies are nervous about, is whether they will be able to quantify the ROI of investing in data. And for those focussed on quarterly profit performance, it is often difficult to make the case for a longer-term investment programme, like a data strategy. However effectively managing your data set is no longer an option. In our ever-connected world, data is now a company’s number one asset. Those that don’t invest in it are eroding the value of their business as well as falling behind competitors, who will get better at understanding and engaging with both existing and prospective customers.

Of course, the key to an effective data strategy, whether it is “Big Data” or not, is to move beyond collecting, to analysing and driving action. However, if the data is inaccurate or incomplete, this makes for a very difficult task. And, unless you are one of those mythical organisations that has managed to create a single customer view, with all your relevant data in one place, you will also need to be able to marry different data sets. This requires your data to be maintained and stored in a comparable way.  If you are not investing in integrating your data sources and in appropriate data analyst resources, then it will continue to become more disparate and harder to interrogate.

So the decision for most organisations is not “should we invest in big data”, but rather “how can we make the data we have, or have access to, work for us in the best way”. Understanding how to use data to improve operating, process and customer experience decisions is the first and most significant step an organisation can take. Investing time and money into understanding the data available to you, analysing it effectively, deriving real-time insights and maintaining your data, including setting a coherent data strategy will all add value to your business, without needing to venture into the realms of “Big Data”.