A Big Data revolution?

I just read an article about the newly released book “Big Data – A revolution that will transform how we live, work and think” by Viktor Mayer-Schönbergers and Kenneth Cukiers (you need to learn Swedish to read the article, but since Swedish is spoken by about 9 million people that should be a great investment for the future… or not).

I have selected some parts from the article that I find interesting and commented on them below (translated to English by me):

“…in the U.S. alone there can be a shortage of 100 000 data analysts within a few years”.

First of all it seems as if I have found the right niche for my consultancy business… But I think it will take a long time before we get to see a substantial increase in the number of data analysts employed by companies, government etc. After working with web analytics for a few years, I have come to a conclusion; There won’t be any hirings before the ones with the budget understands the needs and sees the benefits translated into revenue. In the world of “Big data”, that will happen when we get beyond the talk about potential and starts seeing the real examples of success.

“Big consultancy firms, such as McKinsey, are in the starting blocks with forecasts on where and how big data will make the biggest difference”

No surprise here. McKinsey do their thing and drive their business by capitalizing on one of the big trends right now. But whatever conclusions they will come to, they will mainly bring more “meta-information” to the table. The development in how data is used to increase efficiency, drive change etc. will happen anyway independently of forecasts pinpointing the areas with the highest potential. And the reason for this is that the development is driven by individuals and companies that sees actual possibilities as they occur in their daily working life. But of course forecasts, read by top management people, can fuel the hiring of some of the 100 000 data analysts…

“Some companies, not least supermarket chains like Walmart or social medias such as Facebook and Twitter, already holds unprecedented amounts of information which is, or will be, an unprecedented economical asset.”

Facebook is an interesting example; they have a lot of data connected to you and me, but of course the question is how should they use it. I look at my Facebook page and I see ads that are probably targeted towards all men (or all men in a certain age group with a certain marital status). And in my news feed I see what brands and offers my friends like, but the problem is that these are my Facebook friends, which is a huge broadening of the concept “friend”. So what I see in my newsfeed is only rarely relevant to me even though it is liked by a (Facebook) friend. It might be that Facebook manages to make better use of all that demographic and behavioral data they possess, but there is also a possibility that this data actually won´t help them predict my next most likely action.

“Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier first gives a very simple example – managers at Walmart noted that customers not only bought batteries and flashlights when hurricane warnings were issued, but also Pop-tarts. So they made sure to have these filled cookies on the stock during hurricane season.”

This is not primarily an example of big data, but instead it is an example of being data driven. Walmart must have had some computer system in their stores for many years, storing all purchases in a database. Now it seems they have started to look for correlations in the data. Good for them! There are probably others as well besides cookies and hurricanes.

Pop-tarts. Eaten during hurricanes.

Pop-tarts. Eaten during hurricanes.

The title of the book suggests that the data is driving the change; “Big Data – A revolution…”. But as Scott Brinker writes in this blog post “The big data bubble in marketing“, I think that the real revolution comes from companies becoming data driven, not from the data itself. Of course access to data is a necessary condition for being data driven, but we have had access to relevant data for a long time.

The contribution to this process by “big data” is the highlighting of the potential in using data as basis for decisions and for automating marketing. At the same time the increasing volumes of data, and the increasing diversification of data and data sources, will make this transformation into data driven companies more complex and difficult.

So, all that being said it seems appropriate to actually order the book, and read it. We will see what blog post might come out of that.

Andreas Franson, andreas[@]internetintelligence.se, +46 733 56 41 51

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