The possibilities in big data technology are exciting, but if you know very little about what these information technologies can do for your business, just thinking how to use them can feel like heading out with a plastic straw to fight a behemoth. Can you just walk away from the field? No. Big data technologies are here to stay, and businesses that wish to remain competitive need to embrace a big data mind set. These steps can get you started.
1. Forget the hype.
Every field has its own jargon. Insiders know it, outsiders don’t. It’s awkward to be the outsider still puzzling what data silos are while the jargon-laden conversation you’re listening to has moved on. Don’t let the jargon and all the technology-talk distract you, and definitely don’t let it dissuade you, from your goal.
Consider that ‘big data’ is merely a label people apply to an evolution in technology that provides much more granular information about your audience and allows you to refine—perhaps expand or automate—many of the ways you do business. Because providers of services use this label, it helps you find solutions that take advantage of new technologies. Beyond that, ‘big data’ is simply a slick term that garners attention. Don’t worry about it.
Many of the solutions you might find valuable help solve the same problems businesses have always faced. And, while the scope and scale of what new technologies can accomplish have grown dramatically, the reasons for the solutions have changed little. Trust you will learn the jargon along the way (just look at how familiar you are with the jargon in this simple article!). Trust there are individuals who can help you understand exactly what a big data solution can do for you.
2. Identify your problems.
All businesses have problems that lead to questions about improvement, whether improvement means increasing customer satisfaction or coordinating what you do online with what you do through other channels. You probably know what your problems and questions are. So itemize them, prioritize them. Do you need to find ways to undertake a more sophisticated approach to testing and optimization? Would it really help to automate your search engine strategies and PPC campaigns? Maybe you want to build a review system you can merge reviews with a variety of product-related applications. Perhaps you most want to build a comprehensive cross-selling platform based on relevance. Start with your problems, then …
3. Identify appropriate solutions.
You can employ a good data scientist(s) to help you develop applications in house. Many businesses find it more cost effective to contract with third-parties. Start learning what third-party solutions related to your problem are available. Many will focus on automated and ‘black box’ applications which are often easier to deploy. Talk to other businesses, attend conferences that associations and providers hold, share case stories from others who have successfully incorporated big data strategies. Be a good shopper, and keep in mind, a big data solution may not be the right answer to all of your questions.
4. Take stock of the data available to you.
This is usually an iterative process with identifying your big data solutions. How much in-house data do you have? From where does it come? How easy is it to access? Will you need to start collecting different data? Would it be valuable to start taking advantage of unstructured sources of data? Do you have or will you need to tap into outside data resources? Do you have data resources you never thought of as resources? Intelligence within your business and careful discussions with third-party providers can help you identify the value of what you have and suggest what you need.
5. Educate the people in your business.
Not so long ago, many organizations resisted incorporating analytics into operations. The big data phenomenon is to analytics as a skyscraper is to a house. One of the more difficult problems is getting everyone in your business to agree these new technologies have value and will work. Leadership often worries dramatic changes might fracture the cohesion of the company and change models that have always worked well; these are real and justifiable, if perhaps frustrating, concerns. You may become enthusiastically convinced a big data solution is going to revolutionize your organization’s effectiveness, but the history of institutional intelligence can be a tough nut to crack.
Help other departments understand how these solutions can actually make everyone’s work lives a little easier. Encourage interdepartmental communication and cooperation. Develop presentations and circulate articles so others can see the value of these changes. Reassurance that big data can change the efficiency and efficacy of how people accomplish their tasks without changing the business goals can go a long way to achieving support.
6. Keep an open mind.
An open mind is going to benefit everyone in your business today. It is even more important as you look to the future. In the upcoming years, as this technology is refined and that technology is invented, the big data landscape is going to expand and change dramatically. Every business needs to pay attention to the evolution of these solutions and be willing to experiment toward optimizing the most effective ways to conduct business.
As you head out, plastic straw in hand, remind yourself that few things feel too big and threatening when you start breaking them down into manageable pieces.
You can do it.