Big Data is Everywhere. Are You Using it Correctly?

I remember a time when I didn’t know everything. Modest as it might sound, if someone asked me a question I’d have to admit I didn’t have the answer. I know this sounds hard to believe, but that’s how we all lived back in the days. 

And somehow we survived. Future generations will wonder how we did it.

These days if we think young people act like they know everything it’s because they do. Well, they don’t know, but in their pocket they carry all of human knowledge. They can answer any question in a matter of seconds. What’s the capital of Burkina Faso? How many people live in Mongolia? Who was the Superbowl champion in 1977? All easy questions. And yet with access to all this knowledge they use their phones to text their friends or post pictures of their lunch. Imagine being told 30 years ago you could hold all human knowledge in your hand and you’d instead choose to spend your time watching a cat video.

We live in the age of data saturation, where we’ve rapidly gone from knowing just enough to get by to now knowing everything, and our brains haven’t evolved to keep up. Nor have our businesses. There are endless stories and books about data. Big data is everywhere. Everyone is talking about it, everyone says they’re doing it and you can feel left out if you’re not in on the game. It’s mythical, and almost everyone is bluffing. Big data, for most people, is still just simple reporting. Companies talk about themselves much the same way as they would a hundred years ago. My sales are this big, I serve these markets, I have these many employees. The important data, it feels, are the numbers we always had. The rest just feels like noise. And that’s the case if you’re doing big data incorrectly. If you’re using it for measuring you’re doing it wrong.

We’re still just at the start of the data revolution. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics – science fiction will become just science over the next generation. Even the son of an NAED employee has an AI company. It’s still a new frontier, each of us Lewis and Clark trying to map out where to go and what to do. We’re all covering new ground, each company and each industry, many hesitant to take the next step forwards. Our trouble is that our data navigators don’t know our business very well, and our business navigators don’t know how to mine a database. And both parties often don’t speak the same language. We don’t have a generation yet that can do both, in part because when faced with total knowledge they’d rather watch the aforementioned cat videos.

The bad news however is that we each have to find our way or get left behind. Simply put, companies that embrace data analytics will have the biggest advantage over those who don’t. We’re all competing against each other and the playing field continues to level out. We sell the same types products, hire the same kinds of sales people, have the same pricing and the same operational infrastructure. If you’re just doing the same as the other guy how are you moving ahead of them? And if they move first can you ever catch up? A decade from now the companies that utilize data analytics will be buying the companies that don’t.

Data analytics is the roadmap for your company. It’s an MRI that tells you everything about who you are, what you can become and how you can get there. All those 1’s and 0’s on servers, databases of tens of millions of records hold more insight and more understanding than any of us could have individually. It’s not a measure of how big your company is, it’s an understanding of how big your company should be and how you can get there.

In the not too distant future a Millennial will walk into your business and know more about your company than someone who worked there all their lives. It might sound like a horrifying concept, but the 22 year old will look up from their cat video and provide a better business strategy than the carefully selected executive team they’re presenting to. And rather than resisting this dystopian moment I think it’s one we should be celebrating. Data can transform into information, and information can remove doubt. We can make smarter, safer decisions and investments, improve our productivity, better serve our customers and be stable continually successful companies. This part isn’t science fiction, this is already playing out in companies and industries all over the globe. It’s a level of clarity we should all strive for.

With every revolution there’s a point where you have to figure out who’s going to win and to join their side before you end up on the wrong side of history. The winner in this data revolution is guaranteed. It’s time to truly embrace transforming your corner of the world into a data driven, analysis first culture. Today you might not how to get there, but once you start you’ll come up with the answers. You’re not expected to know everything right now. That’s what the computer is for.

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Mark McGready

Mark McGready

Mark McGready has been working with data analysis for over 20 years in the electrical industry. For the last 10 years Mark founded and ran Jigsaw Systems Inc, a successful data analysis and process improvement company that focused on key sales and marketing challenges like SPA contracts, pricing matrices, inventory analysis and harnessing Point of Sale. Recently Jigsaw was acquired by SPARXiQ, formally Strategic Pricing Associates, in order to widen the services and capabilities available to the industry. Mark brings a combination of understanding data with a commercial sense of real world applications. His tools have generated millions of dollars in top line and bottom line results with his long list of clients.