Do Not Fear Big Data

Big Data: the high volume, high velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making (Gartner).

What is Big Data? Do you know? Do you read these simple seven letters and begin to get scared? During a number of interactions I had this week, I came to the realization that a number of communication professionals may be afraid of the wealth of information that Big Data provides.   Many, and to a certain regard myself included, consider this wealth of data to be clutter. However, I challenge that there is a wealth of value potential within the proper management of content in the growing landscape of data storage.

Forbes reporter Lisa Arthur remarked last summer, “Big data is a collection of data from traditional and digital sources inside and outside your company that represents a source of ongoing discovery and analysis” (Arthur). Her article, particularly focused towards Chief Marketing Officers, challenges that big data is not something that should be feared, but rather something that should be embraced.

From an organizational perspective, the management of big data is dependent on properly organizing and structuring the data sets. While this may appear to be contributing to the acceptance of clutter, think about your kitchen. I imagine that your kitchen has plates and maybe bowls in one cabinet space, glasses in another, pots and pans in another area, silverware in a specific drawer, spatulas and the like in another area, and so on and so forth.

My point?

That as a collection, all of these items within a specific space of square footage – without being organized in a proper manner – will certainly appear cluttered and will cause an organizational headache within your household. However, properly organized, with a stable content management system – cabinet spaces and drawers in this case, this “clutter” will no longer appear as messy and unorganized, but as valuable elements to organizational stability.

Now, let us pivot back to the realm of communications. Communication professionals, whether as an independent consultant or employees within a medium to large scale organization will sooner or later encounter the dreaded big data conundrum. Have no fear.

Communication professionals must prepared themselves for encountering massive amounts of information that may be organized in any number of ways. From an organizational standpoint, smart professionals will recognize necessary adjustments to their content management systems (CMS) if the ability to find and manipulate the data is cumbersome. This is a legitimate problem that must be solved if organizations wish to streamline processes that help maximize time spent on research and analysis.

Research and analysis is perhaps one of the many primary utilizations of stored data.Analyzing business trends, government policy development and implementation, strategic planning, issues management, community engagement, customer satisfaction, and purchase trend analysis are only a few specific uses of big data. Having all the data in the world does no good unless professionals are a storage business, receiving monthly lease payments from customers.

As only one example, the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, has harnessed the organizational mindset and full-circle appreciation for big data. In a Wall Street Journal article this past fall, Liz Coddington, Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer of Walmart.com, highlights the different elements of big data’s utilization for her organization:

Ms. Coddington stressed that the power of Big Data is in moving the business forward and avoiding “analysis-paralysis.” She tells her team to bring her analysis, not simply data. Walmart.com now uses data to understand what’s trending in social media, as well as buying patterns among similar types of customers and what competitors are charging in real-time.

“You may not have perfect information, but we have enough to know our risk is only between X and Y and therefore we’re comfortable moving forward…You have to be careful that you don’t get to the point that you can’t run your business because you’re waiting for data.” (WSJ – CFO Journal). [Bold for emphasis]

Analysis-paralysis can be a problem for any organization, and it can be a tiny, small, medium, large, or RIDICULOUSLY LARGE dilemma. Leaders in organizations do not require the data, but the analysis of said data to make decisions that affect the organization and its future path or plans. As communication professionals, we may not be engineers designing content management systems to help manage big data, but we need to accept the reality that big data is not going away and that we should help our organizations find ways to utilize the wealth of information that is available smartly and effectively.

Ms. Coddington’s remarks also stress the sensitivity of time in running and leading a large organization. As communication professionals, we should all be intimately familiar with the notion that our jobs require prompt attention and that time is not necessarily always something of which we have a copious amount. Analysis must be made smartly, but also promptly, for delivery and presentation to organizational leaders.

Communication professionals, in the arena of issue management or advocacy, can harness big data to generate an ever growing potential of value for the organization they represent. As a colleague put it recently after hearing me speak positively about big data and content quality – value potential + issue management = relevant content. The emphasis being on not being afraid of the clutter (value potential) to recognize strategic issues that must be managed (issue management) and by combining these two ideals in a creative context, generated content will be relevant and aid in supporting the organization’s values and missions.

I am extremely confident that certain people would rather ignore the availability of information that is readily available to them. Additionally, I am confident that some people would rather ignore this availability of data for their own desires and the potential sabotage of large-scale philosophical changes within any number of organizations or governments. However, as communication professionals , we cannot satisfy the desires of our organizations, foster their growth, or protect their legitimacy and reputations by ignoring the wealth of information that can provide significant organization strength and value simply due to fears of getting our hands dirty digging for the appropriate bits of data.

Tell me what challenges and roadblocks you see to fostering an appreciation for big data within your organization. Does your organization embrace big data or do they run from it? Until next week…take care and thanks for visiting!

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