May 13, 2016

We see three big changes occurring in the new world of business data.

  1. Big Data. Data sets that are too large and too complex for traditional data processing are now common, and they are becoming ubiquitous. According to Wikipedia, “As of 2012, every day 2.5 exabytes of data are created.” (An exabyte is 2.5 times 10 to the 18th power.) Personal devices, from smart phones to activity monitors, generate data on nearly all of us — our location, patterns of communication, and behavior. All of this is recorded somewhere; all of it can be processed to yield information that presents business opportunities. While data sets are getting larger, the term “big data” has come to refer not so much to the size of the data sets as their predictive power. A good analytics team can spot correlations in data that unearth business trends, prevent disease, or fight crime. What’s required isn’t processing power (although that helps), but imagination and communication. The hallmark of big data is the way it crosses departmental and disciplinary boundaries.
  1. Unstructured Data. Once upon a time you could only gather data if you created a model of your expected inputs beforehand. Such modeled data can be readily indexed and can give you an excellent view of the business’s performance. But it doesn’t tell you much about, say the content of your customer interactions, which could yield valuable insights for product development and customer motivations. Now if you had transcripts of all customer interactions, those would constitute unstructured data. New technologies are making it feasible to gather such data. New tools make it possible to analyze it. One of the things that is driving the explosion of unstructured data analytics is the growth of social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, YouTube, Digg, and other apps are generating enormous amounts of unstructured data about human beings, their activities, their attitudes, and the products they use or want. Understanding that kind of information is what business is all about.
  1. Location Data. Knowledge of location makes data even more relevant. Just imagine how it would affect your plans to know that, say 50% of your customers used your product only when they were on airplanes, or 80% of your new sales happened in resort towns. As more and more people use smartphones, not to mention activity monitors and the like, this kind of data is being collected somewhere. And businesses are learning better how to access and use it. A story in Business Insider reports that two weeks before Chipotle posted its first-ever quarterly loss, Foursquare, the social media app, predicted the loss and its percentage size. Foursquare also predicted the number of iPhones Apple would sell the weekend it launched iPhone 6. It achieves such feats by analyzing foot traffic.

How can you take advantage of these trends? First, learn what kind of data your own business is gathering and learn what outside data could be useful to you. One of the hallmarks of current data analysis is combining diverse sources of data to gain new and unexpected insights. Second, learn about data mining technology and tools. There are software packages available now that facilitate the finding of patterns and correlations in massive, unstructured data sets. Third, don’t leave it all up to your IT department, but make it a company-wide effort. Making good use of data in this century is a decidedly interdisciplinary effort. Finally, count on Spinnaker Support to help. We have the experience and expertise to evaluate your current and future data needs and help you find your way forward in the new world of business data.