Don’t focus on the data, focus on what the data tells you

Should we stop talking about big data, and start talking about insights?In a recent post on O’Reilly Radar titled “Turning big data into actionable insights“, Ben Lorica provides some highlights of an interview with Evangelos Simoudis regarding big data.

One of the highlights is extremely important. It relates to the importance of finding actionable insights from big data and sharing those insights in a way that the organization can use.  The quote is:

I think you need three ingredients. You need data, you need the right ways to combine the data and extract features from that data, and then the third ingredient is the ability to analyze the data and bring together the analysis results in a way that provides these insights and these measurable actions. … [They] need to be able to know what actions [they] need to execute in response to these analytics….

Emphasis mine.

So many times when talking about big data, we get ourselves wrapped up in the technologies, processes and systems that we forget to think about the real reason we are even working with data in the first place.  Data is near worthless until it is analyzed.  Sure, you can put some ‘value’ on data but unless you turn that data into information (and then into knowledge) your doing nothing more than being a data hoarder.

So…to my data hoarding friends I say: Don’t focus on the data, focus on what the data tells you.  I don’t care if you have 1 GB of data or 1 PB of data, if you can’t turn that data into information and then knowledge, your data initiatives aren’t going to succeed.  Additionally, if you can’t communicate the insights gained from your analysis, your missing out on the real value in data analysis.

Big Data + Big Analytics = Big Insights

Big Data + Big Analytics = Big InsightsIn “Big Data, Big Analytics and You”, I wrote:

“Big data is obviously important to most organizations. There’s plenty of data out there and even more data being generated every day. But big analytics is just as important. Without the ability to analyze the data you have at the speed and scale it is being generated, your organization will never really be able to fully take advantage of big data.”

I wanted to follow up that post with another that talks a bit more about the importance of analytics and converting data into actionable insight.

If you ask business executives if they’d prefer more data or more insight into their business, most would (and should) say that they want and need more insight into their businesses. Some people might argue that in order to get more insight, you need more data but in my experiences this is far from true.

More isn’t always better. More data doesn’t deliver more insight. Businesses do not need more data, they need to be able to use data better. Once an organization figures out how to analyze data more effectively to gain the insights they need, only then will more data make a difference.

Data itself is interesting but useless until you do something to find and understand the ‘signals’ contained within. Until you convert your data into information you have nothing of value. Until this conversion happens, you’ve done nothing but waste money on collecting and storing a whole lot of nothing.

In order to turn this ‘nothing’ into something, companies must find ways to turn find the signal within the enormous amounts of data. This signal will then lead to gaining information, knowledge and, ultimately, wisdom. This is where ‘big analytics’ comes into play because in order to truly find value in big data, you must analyze that data at scale. Sure, you can use excel or some other simple approach to try to dig through your data but excel won’t cut it for the large amounts of data that most organizations need to analyze.

Companies need to analyze at scale to find the insights that their executives need and want. This requires the right analytics tools and systems, the right people with the right skills and a culture that allows people to dig into whatever data they feel is necessary to find answers (and new questions).

Neither big data nor big analytics is the answer to today’s business problems but they are the start to finding many answers that a business needs to find as well as finding some questions that organizations didn’t know they had. It won’t be easy and it can be expensive, but if you are truly looking for insights into your business, there’s no better way to find those insights than by combining a good big data strategy with a good big analytics strategy.

Big data and big analytics can provide big insights for any organization willing to put the time and effort into building a big analytics practice.

This post is brought to you by HP’s Business Value Exchange.

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