July 9, 2013

Big Data – Are You Really Using, or Just Collecting?

AllThingsD published an excellent contributed piece recently that looked at how the concept of Big Data has gone mainstream. But according to author Ben Elowitz, CEO of social media platform company Wetpaint, the skill to actually use Big Data effectively to help companies grow is lacking.

The article makes the provocative statement that most companies just collect Big Data,  they don’t really use it to any positive effect. With the need for innovation never being higher and with so many companies claiming to make data-driven decisions today, how can this be?

The reason is that Big Data demands a different kind of business leadership and vision. Big Data can indeed power business innovation, if business leaders focus on big, fundamental questions and let the data discern the answers. The vision required to grow a company today is not about having an elaborate grand plan, it’s about knowing the right questions to ask. Too often, top executives are reluctant to ask questions, since this can make them appear less than decisive.

An example of such vision is using the analytic power of Big Data to power innovative product development. Most companies today have an unprecedented amount of information on the attitudes and behaviors of their customers. The challenge is figuring out what to do with that data. Companies should be using this data to answer  fundamental questions about their products and services – how can they continuously enhance their products, and create new ones.

As Elowitz states: “Forget about little personalization features. The most valuable data doesn’t fit on the dashboard. Think bigger and move upstream: What’s the most amazing new product or service you can create?”

Then Elowitz lists the five most important questions to ask, and to use Big Data to answer. Here they are – and in parentheses how these questions translate specifically to product development:

  • What do my customers love? (Tapping into user passion)
  • How do they want it? (How does the design, platform need to evolve?)
  • How can I best relate? (Does the product experience project your brand personality?)
  • What secret signals are my customers sharing? (Remain open to what the data shows)
  • Where is the sweet spot? (What unmet customer need can be addressed in a way that best fits my ability to deliver?)

The investment community clearly recognizes the power of this approach to product development that truly leverages Big Data. The venture capital firm Accel Partners announced last week that it has launched its second $100M fund focused on analytic software and applications.

Companies need to change with the times and embrace innovation. Big Data is a big deal only if business leaders use it to think big.