Do You Really Need Big Data?

You think you need big data

  • You need to understanding all those interactions and connections
  • You need databases and decisioning tools and analysts and consultants
  • You need to know what all those patterns are telling you
  • You need the competitive advantage

After all, knowledge is power, it is obvious, isn’t it?

Maybe you could start with small data

Don’t worry about all the big data you don’t have, use all the small data you do

  1. Be clear what the problem is.  Are you too slow, too expensive, is your quality poor, do you have unhappy customers? Write down the problem.
  2. Generate theories and ideas. Is it a lack of materials?  Could it be too many hand offs?  Is it a lack of training, poor routing, one particular machine, or the office in Birmingham?   Create some hypotheses.
  3. Find some data — any data — that will confirm or deny your suspicions. You will be amazed how much you have once you start to look for it.  Find the data you need.
  4. Finally, draw together your evidence and work out what is causing the issue.  Solve the problem.

Then the real wizardry can begin…

But only if you do something about it

All the data in the world is useless if you don’t pay any attention to it.

The definition of big data? Who cares, it is what you are doing with it ~ Bill Franks

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Image by KamiPhuc


  1. James, I couldn’t agree more: it’s not the size of your data but what you do with it (if anything) that counts! I’ve re-blogged this on my site:

  2. “All the data in the world is useless if you don’t pay any attention to it.”

    So true, James, so true. I think about the major hair-cutting chain that I frequent (if once per month is frequent). Like most hair shops, they used to have you sign-in on a clipboard when you arrived, then they would try to serve patrons one-by-one in the order of arrival. Several months ago, they took the clipboard away. Now, you stand at the counter and wait for a stylist to notice you and come to register your name and phone number in their modern salon management software. Noticing the change, I made “small talk” about it with my stylist. What had been the benefits of the new system, I asked? Her response? It allowed the corporate office to keep better track of how many cuts each stylist performed, and how long they took. If they were slacking off or taking too long, then a “visitor” from corporate would arrive one day for a friendly chat. What a disappointment, and what a lost opportunity. I stand here today more than 2 weeks past my typical hair-cutting cycle (growing it out for the winter), and wouldn’t you think their groovy system could alert them to give me a call? I haven’t heard a peep … unless you count the regular flow of “offers” that appear in my inbox, touting 25% off of products that I will never use (mainly because I don’t use dyes – yet – perms or perfumes). I guess now I know the other reason for their “big data” system.

    Great blog. Always enjoy reading it.

  3. James,
    Einstein once said that “Information is not knowledge.” I think this is the challenge whether we have big or small data. Perhaps, as you suggest, we should start small and focus on improving our knowledge and understanding before we take on the challenge of ever more data.


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