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March 2012
Big Data—And Why You Should Care
By Carey Head

Big Data—And Why You Should Care

     What if you knew at what time of day a specific customer is likely to be in the mood for coffee and could text her a timely coupon for a store located nearby? How about if you could predict what year and month a homeowner is likely to be thinking about a new roof and could send him a mailer containing a discount on your service? Marketing feats like these are the promise of Big Data, and if you’re paying attention, you’ll be ready to pounce on that advantage as soon as it’s ready for you.

     First, let’s demystify the concept of Big Data. The term gets thrown around a lot by people who seem to understand little of what it means. It’s different from data analysis and informatics, terms that refer to taking structured data, usually voluntarily offered by the subject, and analyzing it. This structured data may include names, addresses, birthdays, and behavior patterns tracked directly through forms, surveys, website analytics, and preferred customer programs. Easy to gather, easy to analyze. Think of this as “domesticated” data—cultivated and nurtured and harvested by and for business.

     But there is a gigantic world of data out there that is much more complicated, wild, and difficult to tame—but in many ways significantly more valuable because of its very spontaneous nature. Twitter posts, comments on blogs, reviews on products at any of a hundred different sites, credit card purchases, Facebook updates—these are all sources of “wild-caught” data. Traditional data analysis simply can’t handle it, any more than dog trained to herd sheep could wrangle a wild horse.

     That’s where Big Data comes in. Think of it as the Great Wrangler. Big Data refers to technologies designed to gather, organize, and harness the enormous wealth of “wild” information for business purposes.

     Large companies like Target are already taking advantage of Big Data and using it to predict things like when a woman is pregnant, and then market baby products directly to her. At the same time, companies walking on this cutting edge must be careful not to slice themselves on the sharp point of consumer rage over privacy violations, as occurred when a dad learned about his teenager’s pregnancy directly from the department store.

     While Big Data technology is out of reach for most SMBs at this time, it won’t take long for it to mature and trickle down. So pay attention. Your market share is at stake if your competitors catch this one before you. And if you begin following Big Data—and its many privacy concerns—now, you’ll be poised to competently navigate the many government regulations and rulings that will be evolving around privacy and security in the next few months. Keep your eyes open, and Happy Wrangling.




Why You Want Nosy Tech Leaders in Your Company

     The British cult classic series, “The IT Crowd,” portrays an IT department cloistered in a basement, populated by weirdoes concocting creative (technology) ways to get out of actually performing their function. And no wonder—more often than not, they are called on to pick up dead flies, restart locked computers, and guide employees through the process of retrieving passwords.

     Unfortunately, the fiction often bears a close resemblance to reality. For too long, businesses have thought of technology as separate from business function, at great cost to effectiveness. Fortunately, more companies are seeking better results from their technology leaders. A department that understands your business goals can help you optimize your use of technology, uncover new technologies that will better serve your needs, and complete projects in a timely fashion.

     How do you know if your technology department is functioning optimally? Use the “nosiness” scale. If your technology leaders are in the habit of keeping their noses clean by saying, “Yes, sir,” “No, ma’am,” and “We can do that,” without asking questions, then your technology department is not operating as an effective business unit. If your technology projects are often late, underperforming, or over-budget, then your IT department is not getting nosy enough.

     You’ll know you have a healthy technology department when your senior tech officer is asking questions about business goals, wanting to know why a project has been requested and how you plan to use it. If he or she has taken the time to gain a detailed understanding of your company’s genetic code, then you’ve got a nosy technology leader—which means you’re on track to leverage your technology resources wisely.





Carey Head works for Helix Biz, a custom application and automation developer.
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