Big data overload and over-complicating things are two factors holding businesses back
It may seem hard to believe, but many organisations are still nervous about getting involved in big data analysis, despite the prominent role it now plays in virtually every sector.
That’s according to Paul Alexander, founder and CEO of UK-based big data and analytics firm Beyond Analysis, who spoke to Silicon about the challenges facing the industry and some of the factors holding businesses back from getting the most out of their data.
“We’re always advising people on how to use data,” he said. “I thought the world would have moved on by now, but it’s amazing how many organisations are still either data inhibited or nervous about getting into data.
“Or they just don’t have an understanding of whether they actually have the data in the business that they need. So we still do a lot of consulting around helping people understand and identify what data is useful, what they can do with it, what they will be able to build as a result.”
Big data, big problems
Alexander explained that many organisations are guilty of over-complicating things when it comes to big data, often resulting in them drowning in the amount of information they have and failing to generate any practical insights.
The answer, he suggested, is to work out your business goals first and work backwards from there: “Ask what are the strategic objectives of the business and how will data inform each one of those strategic objectives? And then you go looking for the data that will help rather than looking at all of these different data sets and then trying to figure out how you’re going to use them.”
“That doesn’t sound like it’s groundbreaking but it’s surprisingly thin on the ground in terms of approach. A lot people are getting lost in the data with too much data analysis and not enough focus on what’s the business going to do with it and how are they going to use it?”
Businesses have also struggled with the issue of collecting too much data, a thought that was highlighted by Oracle’s lead data scientist at Big Data World in London earlier this year.
The importance placed on big data in recent years has resulted in organisations simply collecting everything they can get their hands on without thinking about whether it will be useful. But Alexander thinks businesses should actually be looking to consolidate their data sets and use the information they already have in new and clever ways.
He cited an example from a travel company customer which introduced an online ‘manage my booking’ section on its site, with the business case being predicated on reducing costs in the call centre.
However, the data soon showed that the people who were calling the call centre were spending an average of £1,000 more than people who were just going onto manage their booking online because they weren’t being upsold anything. This prompted a change in tactics from the company as a direct result of looking at the data it was collecting in a different way.
“It doesn’t sound like rocket science and it’s not. It’s about using the data in cleverer ways and understanding what data is useful for the job that you’ve got at hand, rather than just collecting all of this data because everyone else is and then worrying about it,” said Alexander.
“I wish it was not the case but nearly every business that we come across is still not dealing with data properly.”
So there you have it; keep things simple, experiment with data and don’t be scared. A trio of top tops to help your organisation make the most of the big data revolution.