Posted on January 6, 2014 by

Taking the right path

In 2013 we saw the rise, and in some cases the rebirth of analytics and were told of the importance of using data to get closer to our customers.

The growth of social media and the birth of the omni channel has meant that understanding your channels and the related data is going to be the major challenge for organisations in 2014.

The ability to analyse and act on this data is becoming increasingly important to businesses. The pace of change requires companies to be able to react quickly to changing demands from customers and environmental conditions.

Due to this complexity we have seen the rise of new technologies such as Big Data.

“Data is the new science. Big Data holds the answers”

The term “Big Data” became the buzz word of 2013 it almost seemed the answer to all our problems.  The ability to manage all our data, report on it, and present it in various different ways.

Sounds perfect, but I was left wondering is this really the answer?

Will the data tell us why it looks the way it does?

Before we delve into this, we need to understand why data has become so important and how it will be a key asset to organisations.

The information age

Information is not new, in some respects it existed long before the first home computer was launched. What has changed is the freedom and availability of the information we create and consume.  As consumers we now demand up-to-date information, no matter what the device.

Information is now seen as an integral part of our lives, we wake up and check our face book pages and are still checking our emails while on the morning commute. No matter the channel, information has to be available and in a format which meets our needs.

We’re entering a new world in which data may be more important than software

This need for information has become a huge challenge for companies.  Each individual has different requirements and if the data is not right, the impacts can be catastrophic. The other challenge companies have is in the area of old IT systems, which maintain the same data, across multiple systems.

In some respects the data has started to outgrow the systems.  Companies who had not changed their IT in decades were struggling to keep up with their customer demands and the sheer size of the data became almost unmanageable.

As organisations continue to struggle the sheer quantity and size of data continues to grow, as our use and demands increase.

Due this size and complexity the term Big Data started to become the next technology innovation.

So what is Big Data?

Big Data

Before we jump into an explanation it is probably worth noting that the term “Big Data” is one of the most confused terms.  Everyone recognises it is important but the explanations of “why” and its purpose, will vary, depending to whom you speak with.

The challenge of Big Data is what to use and how to apply it.

Put simply Big Data is a buzzword, or catch-phrase, used to describe a massive volume of both structured and unstructured data that is so large that it’s difficult to process using traditional database and software techniques. In most organisational scenarios the data is too big or it moves too fast or it exceeds current processing capacity.

While the term may seem to reference the volume of data, that isn’t always the case, which is where the confusion comes in.

The term Big Data, especially when used by vendors,  may refer to the technology (which includes tools and processes) that an organisation requires to handle the large amounts of data and storage facilities.

Big Data technology and analytics

The key innovations are not in the data itself but the technology which is used to manage this vast array of data.

Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine,

We saw in late 2012 and early 2013 the launch of a variety of innovative Big Data solutions, which offered the ability to mine data and learn from the data that is captured and consumed.


Various industries started to adopt Big Data technologies and promoted the importance of analytics throughout 2013.

Organistions started to use the data to ask new questions, formulating new hypotheses, exploration and discovery, and making data-driven decisions.

Big Data was unlocking significant value for organisations by not only making information transparent, but by creating faster and more accurate decision making.

Data is not knowledge

So through all this hype, is Big Data the answer to understanding the needs of our customers? Will the data tell us “why” it looks the way it does, and can we just sit back and wait for the technology to give us the answers.

Big Data is the compass which points us in the right direction

The reality is no, Big Data on its own can point us to the areas of concern, it cannot tell us why the data looks the way it does, without a context the data almost becomes meaningless.

Focusing only on the data can actually result in mistakes, as in affect we are just looking at the numbers returned, not at the context of the search results, and why it is appearing.

So how do we gain this context, and bring the data to life?

Using processes to give data a context

Using consistent data and glossaries during process modelling ensures that data, which is analysed by Big Data solutions can be given a process context. This is crucial in a heavily integrated environment.  Aligning the process with the data will show clearly what processes are under-performing, but also introduces consistency.


This consistency and context ensures the data becomes meaningful to all business and IT stakeholders, which enables them to take the right actions.

Aligning to capabilities

Due to the relationships between processes and capabilities, we are able to use the data to provide a much more holistic picture of the organisation. Capability performance and related aspects become almost real time, and we start to truly understand the performance of capabilities we provide, inside the organisation, but also from the customer perspective too.

Focus on the customer experience

In most cases the customers are providing the data to us, each time they interact with our offerings.  Capturing this data and aligning it to the customer lifecycle starts to build a picture of the true customer experience.

customer experience

Based on the data, we can target the real areas of concern and aim to resolve the aspects of our offerings which deliver a negative customer experience. The long term result will be a set of offerings which are designed and implemented around the needs of the customer.

People make the difference

Although we have given the data a context, we still have the issue about understanding “why” the data looks the way it does. What is often missed in various Big Data white papers, is the need for people.  Regardless of how clever your systems are, you still need traditional human analytical techniques, to determine the reasons for the data results.

You can use all the quantitative data you can get, but you still have to distrust it and use your own intelligence and judgment.

When customer anomalies are identified, we still need to speak to the customer to understand “why” they feel they are receiving a negative experience.  Through this knowledge we are able to refine our offerings, enabling us to deliver a more consistent experience to the customer.


The power of using Big Data is not just through the data, it is aligning the data with a context and putting it in the hands of the people who are capable of analysing and resolving the data anomalies.

In reality Big Data technology is just another tool in our analytical toolbox which will enable us to solve problems, which in some cases have not yet happened.

The “So what” moment

What is clear is that our thirst for data is not going to wain, in some respects it is going to increase year on year. During 2014 Big Data will still continue to dominant the headlines. However 2014 will be the year we start to understand how best to leverage it.

Big Data combined with human analytical techniques is the foundation for creating new levels of customer and business value

When Big Data technology is aligned with people and a context, it becomes a powerful weapon in our armoury. It will enable organisations to not only understand, “where” and “what” the issues are, but also “why” and “how” they occur.

In terms of Big Data this is quite a step forward, but there are some other benefits worth mentioning:

  •  Customer focused offerings – Big Data can help organisations understand how others perceive their offerings so that they can adapt them, or the marketing, if need be.
  • Dialogue with customers – Aligning Big Data with human analytical techniques enables organisations to engage with their customers to understand why negative experiences occur, which ensures offerings are improved. Dialogue also builds better customer relationships, which can enhance your brand perception.
  • Spot new customer needs – Data patterns and follow up customer dialogue can also spot gaps, resulting in new customer needs, which the customer had not realised they required.  This creates new revenue streams, but importantly delivers an offering which is aligned to someones needs.
  • Enhanced customer service –  Using Big Data as a compass enables organisations to focus on the key customer issues, ensuring that the right problems are resolved, first time.
  • Focused marketing –  Aligning the data with traditional research will enable marketing teams to focus their marketing activities on the right customers, through the right channels, leading to a personalised message.
  • Improved process improvement – Data aligned with processes also has a knock on positive effect to process improvement. Data alignment ensures the right changes are made, based on volume and data flow. A data approach to processes also enables organisations to determine where the real value is created across the process, and what the change impacts would be to the real end user i.e. the end customer.
  • Improved technology implementations –  Consistent use of data across processes will ensure that technology teams implement the right things, at the right time. Following implementation the same data can be analysed in Big Data solutions due to the consistent use of terms.

Big Data means new opportunities for organisations to create business value — and extract it. Aligning the data with traditional human analytical techniques enables organisations to start to really understand their data, but also get closer to their customers.

This alignment of data and people will ensure that Big Data is here to stay, bringing customers and the organisation closer together, which for me would truly be a big achievement, regardless of the year.


  1. Customer Experience Image, ⓒ 2013 Livework
  2. New Software World Quote: Tim O’Reilly
  3. Innovation Oil Quote: Gartner
  4. Quantitative Data Quote: Alvin Toffler