Big Data, Little Data

CIOs should always be wary of IT strap lines like: cloud, big data, CRM, enterprise architecture, BYOD – those handy labels which often hide a myriad of practical challenges. It is these challenges which eventually come home to roost with the CIO and can lead to undeliverable policy and strategy ambitions … which in turn result in failed so-called ‘IT projects’ and loss of IT credibility.
Let’s take ‘big data’. Who can deny the attractiveness of being able to harness the power of the massive amounts of data we process, to drive better use of resources and improved targeting of services? Magic!

But ‘Big Data’ is certainly not new – Tesco introduced their first loyalty car in 1993 which was all about ‘big data’. Neither is it as easy as it sounds, typically requiring sophisticated information architecture in all but the simplest cases, bringing together data from various systems and sources. Any experienced CIO will know of the challenges there – data matching, data quality, systems integration, reporting tools and data currency, to name but a few. And chaos theory applies – i.e. a small data error or adjustment can lead, through association, to significant changes in information output and fundamentally incorrect diagnosis – so a range of clever sensitivity analyses and safety nets are required, along with interpretative skills.

Given 207tb of data is uploaded to YouTube every day alone, and apparently 90% of all data in the world has been generated in the last 2 years, if we are not careful the challenge of Big Data is just to keep pace, not to exploit information. Chasing the big picture is an arms race.

Yet the potential is clearly there, and data exploitation at scale can lead to competitive advantage through better customer insight, efficiency or business agility. And for public services it can for example, enable the needs and risks of vulnerable adults and children to be anticipated better and scarce resources deployed more surgically.

So in my view ‘Big Data’ is a journey, best taken in small steps. The challenge is to think SMALL not BIG – what specific data, if better connected, could indeed accelerate business advantage? That way you stand half a chance of not biting off more data and expectation than you can chew!

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