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Big data in the real world

Published On: November 7, 2013

This week I am attending the IBM Information on Demand Conference in Las Vegas. “Big data” are two words used everywhere: advertising signs, titles of sessions, on screen and in every sentence used by the presenters. It sounds as important as the air we breathe to keep us alive.

Big data’s promise is to deliver insights like never before. This is great. We saw very useful applications where applying big data to social-media channels provides a more rapid and precise analysis than traditional ways of gathering information.

A great example presented this week was tracking the flu. Either you get information from the medical profession, and a few days or weeks later you have information about the progression of an epidemic; or you scan the social channels for the word “flu” to get an instant visualisation of its progression. Who hasn’t mentioned to friends on Twitter or Facebook that you can’t come to a meet due to the flu?

I love big data, but this week I came to the conclusion that – like most business tools – it requires soft skills to make the most of it. The first soft skill that is required is to “listen”. Listen to your customers, your staff are also your customers, listen to their needs.

When working with our customers at Pronto Software, we design a variety of BI solutions, from simple reports to cubes. Listening to our customers is key to understanding what problems they are trying to solve. Once we understand it, we select the best tool or methodology to solve it.

The best tool may be big data, but sometimes, a simple report, a bubble graph widget or a cube is enough to get the insight required. Big data insight is a tool amongst others to solve real-world problems. If we don’t listen and simply follow a trend because it is the latest buzz word, we may miss the simple and affordable solution that would better solve the customer’s problems.

The second soft skill required is to “avoid jumping to conclusions”. We need to discover the root cause of the issue, asking “why” a few times before developing a solution. Sometimes we get BI requests labelled as “must haves” but after some due diligence, discovered that the insight was no longer of value due to a process change within the business.

In other cases, the insight provided wasn’t a complete fit. We found out that the data was exported to spread sheets for further analysis, cancelling out the promise of analytics and big data which are instant, accurate and relevant information.

So one of my take aways from this year at IBM Information on Demand is that while learning about great new tools and technology to provide better insights, I need to also learn to listen more and avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly.

I am sure that my team at Pronto Software will agree 100% with this!

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