Much energy and verbiage has been spun over the size and speed, potential and perils, of the somewhat enigmatic term “Big Data.” As the New Year gains traction, opinions vary as to what businesses should do regarding this rising tide of information. Entrepreneur claims Big Data will dominate 2013, but Inc. recommends anyone who isn’t Google ignore Big Data streams in favor of smaller ones. It bluntly notes that most companies “can’t afford to hire” employees with the expertise necessary to fish in those big streams. Is Big Data a newly–discovered, gold-laden Eldorado, or is it a mirage the Bard might describe as “…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”?

Big Data is People

We at Powerhouse Factories firmly answer “it depends.” Depends on what? Some might answer that it depends on your size, your data, your goals, your IT and analytics resources, and your type of business — all important concerns.

Before getting tangled up in those factors, step back and see a revelation bubbling beneath the surface that will provide a beacon of light in the turbulent Big Data Ocean:  “Big Data is people!” Channeling Charlton Heston in Soylent Green, the analysts at PHF repeat this mantra whenever we discuss massive untapped data warehouses with clients — “Big Data is people.”

We believe even small companies can leverage Big Data to positively affect their businesses, but often they see millions or billions of data rows and feel overwhelmed. Before stockpiling and mining massive data sources (like point of sale), begin asking how Big Data can HUMANIZE valuable dimensions of your business. As evidenced by this past fall’s The Human Face of Big Data events and book release, we are not alone in our desire to keep people focused on the underlying human element in all of this. POS data, social media feeds, customer information and other such sources are enormous, but to extract value from them, let your mining/analytic efforts be guided by human goals.

Stated more directly, should you spend time/energy/money/effort this year developing, exploring and embracing your “Big Data”? Yes, if you can humanize it. For example, if dealing with 100 terabytes of POS data doesn’t illuminate some actionable aspect of your customers or employees, then is it really worth saving, investigating or worrying about?

Optimize the Customer Experience

If you can see how tangible improvements to consumer loyalty and customer service will be guided by effectively grouping your customers, then do go ahead and develop a data-based customer segmentation scheme from your customer database.

If you can see a way that tapping Big Data will improve employee performance and satisfaction, then definitely upgrade the IT infrastructure needed to house and use Big Data.

If you can plot out how the nuggets of knowledge garnered from your databases can lead to changes that will improve how many humans perceive and interact with your brand, then go and hire (or rent) the analysts necessary to mine the Big Data.

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