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Small Data, Everyday Analytics, and the Power of Thinking Fast

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The small data movement continues to gain followers. In fact, just in the past couple weeks we’ve seen articles in a wide range of publication including Ad Age, CITEWorld (smart data!), InformationWeek India, RetailWeek, and the SmartData Collective, as well as new opinion pieces on the problems with big data in the New York Times and FT magazine. Meanwhile one of the more popular sessions at Adobe’s marketing summit tackled the topic and featured my former colleague Scott Liewehr who reviewed findings from the study we did at DCG last summer (see nice recap of the session by Trueffect here).

As I’ve discussed over the past 2 years, many of the benefits of thinking small focus on making personalized insights more pervasive via new, smarter devices, tools, and apps. Bringing big data down to size helps both decision makers and “everyday” business users or consumers find (just the right) information/content they need, in a format that makes it super clear and easy to take action. This to me is the essence of what it means to be data-driven, and in many ways is powering the excitement around wearable technology like Pebble, Fitbit, and Google Glass.

So, for consumers, small data continues to be about connecting (with data and peers), convenience, and portability. Yet for businesses looking to tap the power of big data for everyday decision making, it’s also about speed. In fact, one could argue it’s mostly about speed and being faster to market and more responsive to customer needs. How so?

As brands strive to be more data driven in their product development, marketing campaigns, and experience design, thinking fast means getting actionable insights in minutes and hours vs. days and weeks as we’ve become used to in “traditional” BI and Big Data (thanks to having to wait for IT resources or our neighborhood data scientist to pay us a visit!).

In today’s business environment, it’s increasingly tough to justify these bottlenecks. Especially when many business users are already part of the way there with tools like Excel or Tableau, and others have seen the potential of a small data approach via their experiences with consumer apps and Websites.

The bottom line? When social and mobile are the rule, and data increasingly drives competitive advantage, speed, and being more responsive, is the new “big.” For business users, this starts with being ruthlessly focused.

Staying Focused to Move Fast

Moving fast, failing fast, even being an agile fast follower, are all proven business strategies. This is the case for organizations in growth industries, and especially for leaders who need to deal with external competitors as well as internal adversaries like budget cycles or organizational inertia. But to go fast, you need to have focus. And think small (and fast), when it comes to data access, discovery, and delivery.

In business, being focused is critical to bringing benefits of big and small data to the broadest set of users. And often requires that we reduce scope to just the essential questions/algorithms/visuals needed to help business analysts and their peers understand the essence of their data and optimize campaigns and experiences in near real-time.

Building on our small data design principles, this means striving for simplicity in our tools, being smart “enough” to handle role-specific tasks, being responsive in terms of portability AND delivering immediate value, and making it easy to compare notes and socialize findings.

Customer Analytics for the Rest of Us

Digging deeper, if we review our definition for small data, the last part (be accessible, understandable, and actionable, for everyday tasks) effectively becomes our checklist for designing and evaluating prospective customer analytics tools that are geared to the non-data scientist and everyday sales, marketing, and service tasks (like Actuate’s BIRT Analytics), as follows:

  • Is it fast and simple to access all the data we need – from CRM, ERP, Web, campaign tools, social channels, and other sources – to create a true picture of customer and market needs (and easy to clean the data if needed)?
  • Can non-technical users explore, enrich, and understand this multisource data in one place – creating an analytics “sand box” as Boris Evelson from Forrester has called it?
  • It is easy for business analysts to create visualizations, share findings, and apply insights in new campaigns and experiences (via workflow and connectors) without needing expert assistance?
  • Are common “everyday” tasks/use cases like segmentation, cross-sell campaigns, or social/Web targeting supported – and are there pre-build algorithms tied to these use cases?

Moving fast shortens the time to value, and allows more time for socializing insights and field-testing new campaigns and offers (as a type of “rapid prototyping” perhaps). Doing so requires simpler and smarter tools, and removing IT bottlenecks. But most importantly it means putting the power of advanced analytics in the hands of everyday business users.

 

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Beyond Big Data: Why Small Data is Taking Off

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Big Data is everywhere. Yet many companies lack a clear vision for rolling out big data in practical, measured steps. At the same time, with social networking, BYOD, and expectations from interactions with brands like Amazon, Apple, and Nike, most employees have seen the potential, yet many aren’t equipped to harness this power in their workplace. The small data movement — which I’ve been writing about for the past 6 months (and thinking about for many years) — aims to address these challenges and re-envision the “last mile” of big data via consumer-style, more responsive, more social apps that truly turn insight into action.

Not surprisingly, this idea is getting a LOT of attention. In fact, over the past 6 months there’s been as much published about small data as there was in the previous 3 years. Clearly small data has gone big time as a theme, concept, and set of tools.

So why is small data taking off?

  • First, while understandably there’s a lot of excitement about big data, there’s a growing reality that doing it at scale and waiting for all the trickle down benefits can take a lot of time. Especially if you’re not in the C-suite.
  • Second, (and here’s where I jump on my soapbox), the last mile of big data is really where the value is created, opinions are formed, insights are shared, and action are made. By non data scientists. Everyday.
  • Third, there’s some great consumer examples of small data hitting the stage, most notably the much hyped but potentially game-changing Google Glass, which brings together small data and visualization with wearable computing, all in a semi-stylish package.

So who is fueling the small data movement? I wrote about 10 vendors who get the value of enabling simple, smart, responsive, socially aware tools and solutions in my last post. And a couple weeks back I wrote about 5 additional vendors and a new study I’m doing with Digital Clarity Group in a post on the DCG blog, which you can read here.

As small data takes off, I will continue to provide updates and thoughts both here and on the DCG blog. As always I’d love your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

Thanks for stopping by!