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Distilling the buzz around big data

By November 1, 2013January 12th, 2016Market and consumer insights

By Eric Matusiak,
Manager, SATOV Consultants

The amount of data in the world is increasing exponentially. According to Harvard Business Review, companies collected more data in 2010 than in all previous years combined.

In theory, big data enables organizations to make better decisions, improve productivity and build better product offerings. However, many executives are confused by the term and few organizations are equipped to work with it properly.

We believe that small data, management and employee insight, and experimentation should be leveraged before looking to big data to uncover opportunity and the advantages of such analysis.

There are three main challenges:

  1. Legacy systems: Old infrastructure with severe limitations and poor data integrity
  2. Talent availability: Limited expertise available to mine data and complete statistical analysis
  3. Governance: Lack of process discipline on what to measure and how to operationalize new insights

A new data industry has arisen to help companies manage these challenges, but these services are expensive and don’t advance internal capabilities. And even with this help, a lack of program governance can still trip up a company.

Also, there are many companies that have been successful without big data. Consider Nest Labs, a Silicon Valley manufacturer of smart thermostats. CEO Tony Fadell was asked by Forbes magazine if big data helped design thermostats: “No. Great products come from strong points of view…You say no to most of the features that data says you’ll need. However, data shows how people use your product in ways you hadn’t expected.”

In some industries, where the product assortment and customer segments are complex, big data can increase sophistication and customization of marketing and sales tactics. However, few companies have achieved the ROI they anticipated by launching big data. A recent study from Cisco revealed that only 28{a23d3e3aff46d689b50c88cc1d7606a7a28ed4b695b585c6bb0ea43784184748} of managers felt their big data initiatives were successful. Like any investment, organizations must evaluate the prospective ROI of a data initiative and validate its impact against alternative strategic opportunities.

Big data clearly offers organizations another opportunity to drive productivity and innovation. As consultants with analytical expertise, we are often brought in with the expectation that we can deploy it immediately to uncover opportunity.

However, for those not ready for true big data, we often advise to start by:

Getting small data right first

  • Analyze clean data samples vs. exhaustive weak databases
  • Leverage preliminary outcomes to screen opportunity

Listening to employees and customers

  • Leverage management and front-line insight
  • Validate ideas with historical perspective in mind


  • Test hypothesis on control group vs. broad customer base
  • Prioritize big data initiatives based on preliminary results

By getting the small data analysis and governance process right, organizations will be better enabled to realize the future potential of big data.