Big data noise has reached the point where most are reaching for the ear plugs. And with any good hype bubble, the naysayers are now grabbing attention with contrarian positions. For example, The New York Times expressed doubt about the economic viability of big data in "Is Big Data an Economic Big Dud?" This post grabbed a lot of attention, but, like many others I read, it fundamentally misses the point of what big data is all about and why it's important. The article compares the productivity boom associated with the first wave of the Internet to the lack of growth experienced since the inception of "big data"; it implies that big data’s expected economic impact may not happen. Furthermore, the article implies that big data is something that firms will do or implement. Thinking about big data this way or differentiating between data sets as big, medium, or small is dangerous. It leads to chasing rabbits down holes.
I had the opportunity to speak and participate in a panel on data governance as it pertained to big data. My presentation was based on recently completed research sponsored by IBM to understand, what does data governance look like by firms embarking/executing on big data? The overarching theme was that data governance is about protect and serve. Manage security and privacy while delivering trusted data.
Yet, when you look at data governance and what it means to the data practice, not the technology, protect and serve is also a credo. In business terms it represents:
Protect the reputation and mitigate risk associated with inappropriate use or dirty data.
Serve information needs of the business to have information fast and stay agile to market conditions.
Business intelligence (BI) is an evergreen that simply refuses to give up and get commoditized. Even though very few vendors try to differentiate these days on commodity features like point and click, drag and drop, report grouping, ranking, and sorting filtering (for those that still do: Get with the program!), there are still plenty of innovative and differentiated features to master. We categorize these capabilities under the aegis of Forrester agile BI; they include:
Making BI more automated: suggestive BI, automatic information discovery, contextual BI, integrated and full BI life cycle, BI on BI.
Making BI more pervasive: embedding BI within applications and processes, within the information workplace, and collaborative, self-service, mobile, and cloud-based BI.
Making BI more unified: unifying structured data and unstructured content, batch and streaming BI, historical and predictive, and handling complex nonrelational data structures.
Developers And Their Business Counterparts Are Caught In A Trap
They swim in game-changing new technologies that can access more than a billion hyperconnected customers, but they struggle to design and develop applications that delight customers and dazzle shareholders with annuity-like streams of revenue. The challenge isn’t application development; app developers can ingest and use new technologies as fast as they come. The challenge is that developers are stuck in a design paradigm that reduces app design to making functionality and content decisions based on a few defined customer personas or segments.
Personas Are Sorely Insufficient
How could there be anything wrong with this conventional design paradigm? Functionality? Check. Content? Check. Customer personas? Ah — herein lies the problem. These aggregate representations of your customers can prove valuable when designing apps and are supposedly the state of the art when it comes to customer experience and app design, but personas are blind to the needs of the individual user. Personas were fine in 1999 and maybe even in 2009 — but no longer, because we live in a world of 7 billion “me”s. Customers increasingly expect and deserve to a have a personal relationship with the hundreds of brands in their lives. Companies that increasingly ratchet up individual experience will succeed. Those that don’t will increasingly become strangers to their customers.
We recently met with Huawei executives during the launch of its latest product in China, the S12700 switch. The product, which ships in limited quantity in Q1 2014 is designed for managing campus networks, and acts as a core and aggregation switch in the heart of campus networks. While wired/wireless convergence, policy control and management come as standard features, the draw is the Ethernet Network Processor (ENP). The ENP competes against merchant silicon in competitive switch products, and Huawei claims to be able to deliver new programmable services in six months, compared to one to three years for competitive application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chips. This helps IT managers respond quicker to the needs of campus network users, especially in the age of BYOD, Big Data, and cloud computing.
While it is a commendable product in its own right, Huawei will need to position its value more strategically against IT managers that have technology inertia, especially in ‘Cisco-heavy’ networks:
Tying the value of the switch to existing and future enterprise campus needs. In the age of cloud computing, big data, mobility, and social networking, IT managers need to solve network challenges like insufficient service processing capability and slow service responses. Huawei says the new switch is able to provide agile services and respond flexibly to changes in service requirements, on demand. For example, the switch has access control built in for wired/wireless access management. This is a good start. Enterprises will need to understand how the switch plays a central role in a campus network, and Huawei should continue to reinforce its agile network architecture’s storyline.
Big data gurus have said that data quality isn’t important for big data. Good enough is good enough. However, business stakeholders still complain about poor data quality. In fact, when Forrester surveyed customer intelligence professionals, the ability to integrate data and manage data quality are the top two factors holding customer intelligence back.
So, do big data gurus have it wrong? Sort of . . .
I had the chance to attend and present at a marketing event put on by MITX last week in Boston that focused on data science for marketing and customer experience. I recommend all data and big data professionals do this. Here is why. How marketers and agencies talk about big data and data science is different than how IT talks about it. This isn’t just a language barrier, it’s a philosophy barrier. Let’s look at this closer:
Data is totals. When IT talks about data, it’s talking of the physical elements stored in systems. When marketing talks about data, it’s referring to the totals and calculation outputs from analysis.
Quality is completeness. At the MITX event, Panera Bread was asked, how do they understand customers that pay cash? This lack of data didn’t hinder analysis. Panera looked at customers in their loyalty program and promotions that paid cash to make assumptions about this segment and their behavior. Analytics was the data quality tool that completed the customer picture.
Data rules are algorithms. When rules are applied to data, these are more aligned to segmentation and status that would be input into personalized customer interaction. Data rules are not about transformation to marketers.
Ari Kaplan is a real moneyball guy. As President of Ariball, he has worked with more than half of all the MLB organizations to evaluate players for maximum return on the baseball club's investment. But, Ari is much more than just a moneyball guy, he is also a computer scientist, a data scientist, and has the business acumen to produce dramatic results for the teams he works with. He is the real deal. Forrester TechnoPolitics caught up with Ari at Predictive Analytics World in Chicago to ask him how Big Data and the role of the data scientist will advance the science of moneyball.
Too little data, too much data, inaccessible data, reports and dashboard that take too long to produce and often aren’t fit for purpose, analytics tools that can only be used by a handful of trained specialists – the list of complaints about business intelligence (BI) delivery is long, and IT is often seen as part of the problem. At the same time, BI has been a top implementation priority for organizations for a number of years now, as firms clearly recognize the value of data and analytics when it comes to improving decisions and outcomes.
So what can you do to make sure that your BI initiative doesn't end up on the scrap heap of failed projects? Seeking answers to this question isn't unique to BI projects — but there is an added sense of urgency in the BI context, given that BI-related endeavors are typically difficult to get off the ground, and there are horror stories aplenty of big-ticket BI investments that haven’t yielded the desired benefit.
In a recent research project, we set out to discover what sets apart successful BI projects from those that struggle. The best practices we identified may seem obvious, but they are what differentiates those whose BI projects fail to meet business needs (or fail altogether) from those whose projects are successful. Overall, it’s about finding the right balance between business and IT when it comes to responsibilities and tasks – neither party can go it alone. The six key best practices are:
· Put the business into business intelligence.
· Be agile, and aim to deliver self-service.
· Establish a solid foundation for your data as well your BI initiative.
I had a conversation recently with Brian Lent, founder, chairman, and CTO of Medio. If you don’t know Brian, he has worked with companies such as Google and Amazon to build and hone their algorithms and is currently taking predictive analytics to mobile engagement. The perspective he brings as a data scientist not only has ramifications for big data analytics, but drastically shifts the paradigm for how we architect our master data and ensure quality.
We discussed big data analytics in the context of behavior and engagement. Think shopping carts and search. At the core, analytics is about the “closed loop.” It is, as Brian says, a rinse and repeat cycle. You gain insight for relevant engagement with a customer, you engage, then you take the results of that engagement and put them back into the analysis.
Sounds simple, but think about what that means for data management. Brian provided two principles: