We have big data, now we need big ideas

Big ideas

I recently attended an event that focused on Big Data insights and techniques for retailers. It was well attended and had some great speakers presenting including Myer CEO Bernie Brooks. By the end of the two hour seminar it was clear that Australian businesses have been busy investing in Big Data technology thereby ensuring they have access to a large number of data sets.  But as my taxi pulled away from the venue I felt bothered by how little was actually being achieved with that data. We have the big data, but we seem to be lacking the big Ideas to make the most of it.

One of the major constraints on what organisations achieve with big data relates to their approach to the acquisition, ownership and use of big data. Companies have their own set of objectives and as a result, are currently viewing customer data as a resource to squeeze value from. I wrote about this in an article titled “Data is not the new oil, it’s the new soil” in October 2013 for the website of Smart Data Collective. In this article I suggested that businesses view customer data to a resource akin to oil: “Oil is valuable. If you find, collect and store oil it will remain valuable. Data is a very different thing. Data is generated when people do something. It is a record of an event. That means it starts losing value almost as soon as it is generated because it ages. We can see trends and obtain insights but to get real value from data, it must be used in real time. Simply gathering and storing data is a pointless exercise.”

Many businesses are now past the point of simply gathering and storing data. They are using it, but the focus is too heavily weighted towards simply deploying  it as a marketing tool. Using customer data as a tool to better target and personalise communications is extremely important. In a fragmented media landscape it is vital to invest in this kind of marketing to remain relevant. But it is not enough.

If a company views the data as a marketing and communications asset then they will naturally try and get as much value from it as possible. But think about what will happen in the longer term. If businesses  invest in big data systems and techniques they will have to show a return on this investment. As this return on investment starts to be proven and reported shareholders will come to expect consistent and even higher returns on this type of  activity.This means more data will need to be collected and even more messages (mostly in the form of emails) will need to be sent out to drive customer behaviour. This will then produce  a vicious cycle where customers  become fatigued at best, and completely distrusting at worst.

What businesses need to do now is start to shift their perception of data. It is an asset, but it is an asset they share with their customers. The only real way of creating true long-term value from customer data is to take a step back and say “how can we use customer data to generate value for the very customers who are generating it?”, or put another way, how can a business create amazing data-driven experiences that will develop their customer relationships?

To really make the most of data companies need to work with everything they have. They need to get the most creative people working with the data scientists to ensure data is used to benefit the customer. To do this, they must have  great digital and data strategists that know how to speak the language of business, technology, creativity and customers all at once.

There is a big opportunity for businesses to become much more than the sum of all of the data-parts they collect. They need to move back towards big Ideas-which now can be underpinned by big data.

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