​INSIGHT: Big Data - Is it time to look at it differently?

"Just because data is big, it doesn’t make it any different from small, or even medium data."

We have all heard the term ‘big data’, it’s regularly in the news we consume and the discussions many of us have on a daily basis.

The term traditionally refers to a high velocity, volume and variety of data.

Big data is real and it is there, but as IT professionals we can sometimes get so caught up in buzz terms, we can forget about the meaning behind them.

Just because data is big, it doesn’t make it any different from small, or even medium data. What we always need to come back to is what data is there for. It is there to help make informed decisions, regardless of the size.

There is a concept I call “Fly the plane”. If you are learning to fly a plane, when you first enter the cockpit the number of dials can be overwhelming.

Like with big data, there is too much information to consume. However, over time you learn about what each component does and when to use it.

The dials are consolidating the plane’s entire surrounding environment to help you make decisions. To get excited about the number of dials would distract you from performing the task at hand - flying the plane.

Just as with big data, to get excited about the amount of information at hand will distract, your team and organisation from making day-to-day decisions.

The important thing is that those dials are giving you accurate information, i.e. that the data is clean and trustworthy, so that the best possible decisions can be made.

Director positions need to be aware that by focusing too heavily on the big data, you are overshadowing the small data that is needed quickly to make every day decisions.

To give an example, research conducted by Columbia Business School found that marketers' desire to be data-driven is not yet matched by a consistent effort to collect the data necessary to make these real-time decisions.

In the study, 29 per cent reported that their marketing departments have "too little or no customer/consumer data."

Furthermore, 39 per cent of marketers also said that their data is collected "too infrequently or not real-time enough."

We need to simplify things down and get back to basics, as people actually need very little information when it comes to making fast, informed evaluations.

As IT professionals, I think we also need to be wary of getting too focused on new technology, particularly in and around big data.

There is some really great technology out there for big data, but like Stephen R. Covey outlines in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand, and then be understood.”

The need for a faster, more effective decision-making process needs to be prioritised first, and the technology second.

So yes, big data is very real but it does not need to be looked at as anything, big scary, or overly exciting.

We need to make sure the data stays true to its purpose by treating it in the same way as any other type or amount of data, and by focusing on the task at hand, ensuring the data can be used for well-informed, smart, sensible decision-making.

By Darryl Wolfaardt - Managing Director, Mettle Consulting

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