Big Data Will Save the Planet!!!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a trend on Twitter where various folks are posting Tweets referring to articles and blogs about how “Big Data” will transform the travel industry, or Big Data will optimize marketing, or Big Data will revolutionize information security.  All are interesting posts, and all are pretty accurate, but even for me (a marketing guy) these types of headlines make my skin crawl.

Let there be no doubt that I’m all for getting away from talking about the technical aspects of managing Big Data or talking about ever-growing numbers of “V’s” to describe the challenge.  Instead, I much prefer to hear about the value and opportunity it presents. But can we please stay away from pithy headlines?

Big Data’s Value Doesn’t Need To Be Hyped

In my view, these headlines simply epitomize a lot that’s wrong with marketing hype around Big Data.  I know most Tweets are created to fit within 140 characters, but all I see when I read them are obvious statements that lack any depth because us marketing folks created them when we couldn’t think of anything better to say. It’s either that, or some internal marketing policy says that we always need to use an adjective to make it sound more impressive.

The simple fact is that Big Data’s value is real – so are the use cases and the resulting opportunities. Articulating that value has to be more beneficial than offering hype.

For the most part, when I talk to customers, they aren’t quite at the stage where they want to save the planet. Rather, they just want to find out how they can use the data and resources they have to perform better in their roles, across their teams, and ultimately their organizations.

Which article are you more likely to read?

a)     “Big Data to Transform Marketing”, or
b)     “5 Big Data Use Cases in Marketing”

Personally, I’d opt for the fact-based one, the one that sounds like it’s going to give me some real concrete examples, that’s going to give me some real ideas that I can put into practice.

Let’s keep it real!

Quick Wins? Big Wins? Or Can I Have My Cake and Eat It Too?

Over the last month I’ve clocked a lot of miles heading from the UK to the U.S., to South Africa for the AFSUG events and back to Europe for SAPinsider, and during that time I’ve spoken to a lot of customers.  Those conversations, as you can imagine, have been pretty varied, ranging from questions about the overall analytics market, trends around big data and mobility, to more detailed discussions about how they are building roadmaps to drive richer and more impactful enterprise wide analytics.

What was interesting is that in a good number of these conversations I was asked a similar question which went along the lines of, “But we also want to show some quick wins. What do you think? Does that make sense?”

Well here’s what I think…

In my humble opinion, the recognition that quick wins should be part of a longer journey is good.  The reason for this is simple – quick wins alone are unlikely to make the most of the opportunity that a broader enterprise-wide analytics strategy can deliver.  Yes, you gain value; yes, you can do some cool things quickly; and yes, you probably don’t have to bang on too many doors to make them happen. But I believe they can only get you so far. At some point a bigger, broader change may be required.

That said, I also don’t believe that the delivery of a broad, enterprise-wide analytics strategy is possible without incorporating quick wins as part of the delivery process.  The sort of value they can deliver in a short space of time is the perfect example of what could be possible. That’s great when it comes to gaining the sponsorship of you key stakeholders, but it’s also critical when it comes to proving to the skeptics across the business that an enterprise-wide approach is possible without huge disruption or the loss of the flexibility they crave.

The trick here, in my view, is to find a way to best combine the two, where you can have your cake and eat it. Where you get the sort of quick wins the business loves and easy to use self-service analytics that can be deployed to solve numerous challenges quickly but at the same time contribute to a broader strategy. Enter the value of enterprise self-service analytics.

And that’s where I closed the conversations. “Yes it makes sense, here’s why and by the way… have I told you about SAP Lumira? You can download it free now…”

“Big Data” Is OK, But Intuition Rules, OK?

I tend to be an early riser and this weekend was no exception.  In my usual quiet time in the morning, with coffee and Macbook in hand, I settle down in the kitchen, read the BBC News site, and generally see what’s going on in the world.

This weekend I stumbled upon a blog titled “Why Big Data Will Never Beat Business Intuition” and I have to say that quite simply, I agree.

I won’t recap the article for you, but needless to say, it makes a series of points to argue that we should take a little time to really think about how we use Big Data and it cautions us against blind interpretations without human intuition.

Let me add another example I’ve used in presentations over the last few weeks.  Analytics aren’t reserved for businesses or data scientists. We all use analytics everyday. My friend Donald MacCormick blogged on a great example last year when he used the BBC weather website as an example of an analytic, and again I agree.

But here’s the point – when I read the BBC weather website and it tells me the forecast for the day ahead, I don’t simply take it for granted. The first thing I’ll do is look out the window and ask myself if the weather looks like it’s supposed to. Quite often I’ll even open the door and really check how warm it is. That’s my human intuition telling me not to rely just on the data.

And that in a nutshell is why I think Tim Leberecht’s blog makes sense. And that’s why, when it comes to Big Data, I believe two things are critical – the discussion on the use case and application of the data, and the education of the people using it.

Of course, flexible, self-service, and real-time analytics are then needed to allow people to use their intuition in a natural way, as opposed to a machine-driven way, but it’s that intuition and education that really makes their application work.

This blog was first posted on the SAP Analytics Blog