Big Data is the phrase on so many decision makers’ lips at the moment. It’s a great term and has been influential in elevating the importance of data, especially around the boardroom table. But to a data expert it’s essentially meaningless.
Why? Because data has always been big. Data – in particular, customer transactional data – has always been a challenge for businesses to deal with. Back in 1992, we spent a massive (for us, at the time) £16,000 on four 1GB hard drives to hold as much information as we could for our clients. These days a portable 8GB drive on Google comes in at £2.99. Data is expansive; as technology evolves to store it, unless managed it will always fill the space available. Previously, we stored what was most relevant as the capacity wasn’t there to store everything and this filtering is still going on to a certain point. It’s not the mountain of data that’s important, it’s the spoonful of gold that we need to harness and act on quickly. There will always be more coming in than companies are capable of dealing with. Because just as the amount of data coming into a business gets larger, and our capacity to collect and analyse it increases, the new technologies and touchpoints to collect it also increase exponentially.
Big Data is big business; it has big implications. It is not, however, new, and it is leading businesses astray. Big Data is a big distraction from the real issue: Fast Data. The speed at which volumes of information come into a company now mean that the vast numbers of data scientists being hired at FTSE 500s around the world find themselves bogged down in the sheer onslaught, unable to find the really important facts in the torrent (the spoonful of gold). In all the fuss over Big Data, the opportunity from Fast Data is being ignored, and this is potentially ruinous. Fast Data is where the action is. Fast Data holds those incredibly valuable hair trigger moments where a company can pinpoint a customer about to leave, and stop them, making them a more loyal contact in the process. Fast Data is where people are browsing for cars online, it is dropped e-shopping baskets. It is the brief moment where decisions are influenced, and it lives only in the now.
So if a business is struggling to deal with its data already being Big, how can it be expected to deal with a 24/7 torrent of Fast Data too? The smart business keeps itself focused. It knows what its objectives are, and will look at the information coming in signalling the trigger points that will help to achieve these. This could be making sure they know when their customers move property so valued contacts are not lost, it could be understanding that a solid retention strategy hinges on spotting just when a customer is looking to defect and knowing what those information patterns look like. A smart business also knows when it may be time to look for help from someone outside its structure, independent from the infrastructure of siloed departments and data streams, that can pull the insightful whole together from many different, disparate parts. Fast Data cannot be slowed; it loses its power. It can however, be filtered and used. And businesses bewildered by Big Data can instead be fuelled and furthered by Fast Data.