“Big Data” seems to have become the latest buzz phrase in the marketing world. Everybody’s talking about it, but few seem to understand exactly what it is. Even fewer are doing anything with it.
What is It?
At its core, Big Data is the term used to refer to the volume, variety and speed of data that is now available. To understand Big Data you need to understand that:
It’s huge. Companies have always had data on their customers and prospects, but the available data was primarily transactional: purchases, calls, etc. Then companies went online, and the amount of data captured radically increased. Then the popularity of social media sites and mobile devices soared, and the amount of data that can be captured and tracked soared as well. Now the volume of data is so large that “Humongous Data” might be a more accurate term!
It’s varied. In addition to transactional data there’s also website data (clicks, search terms, time on page, etc.), social media data (“likes,” shares, comments, reviews), and more.
It’s immediate. Whereas in the past companies may have downloaded their sales data at the end of the day, now some organizations are getting millions of records every minute – all coming at them in real time.
What Can You Do With It?
You may hear people say they’re “doing Big Data.” This is a misnomer. The reality is, you don’t “do” Big Data. You use Big Data and then you can do Predictive Modeling and other analytics with it. As I’ve discussed in a previous post, Predictive Modeling (also called Predictive Analytics) is a way to use all of your existing data about your customers and prospects to predict their future behavior. And the more data you have, the more powerful your Predictive Modeling can be.
What’s Stopping Everyone?
So if Big Data can be used to move beyond just looking at what happened in the past to actually predicting what’s going to happen in the future, why isn’t everyone harnessing Big Data and using it to its full extent?
Well, naturally, there’s a catch. Before you can make use of your rapidly expanding treasure trove of Big Data, you need to address some core challenges caused by the volume of data itself. For example:
How do you store all this data? Your company’s internal data storage systems may not be able to handle the magnitude of the data you can collect. Your IT Department will need to figure out how to manage all of this data; many organizations are finding Cloud-based solutions to be best.
How do you combine all this data? It’s likely that the data is being collected by a variety of different systems: Purchasing, Accounting, Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, and now outside sources like social media and web traffic. In order to leverage this data you have to find a way to combine it into one system.
How do you figure out what’s actually relevant? Another issue with Big Data is that not all of it is helpful. So you need to have people in place to sift through it all to separate the wheat from the chaff.
In my next post I’ll discuss some of the things you need to know before you start tackling your Big Data. In the meantime, if you’re not yet making the most of all the data that you’re collecting, rest assured that you’re not alone. Although all of the talk makes it seem as though everybody is “doing Big Data,” to a large degree it’s just talk – most companies are just starting to get a handle on what Big Data is all about.