In Big Data Analytics, Context is King

By Jorge Combalia on Jan 23, 2013 - 09:01am

Last year saw an explosion of articles on the Big Data phenomenon, most notably Harvard Business Review’s October feature and Steve Lohr’s year-end piece in The New York Times. The coverage in the media has almost out-paced the amount of data generated by our always-connected society, recently estimated to be more than 2.5 quintillion bytes daily. Ok, so I’m exaggerating, but we at Alteryx recognize that the growth in Big Data has also translated to an increased need for strategic analytics to make sense of all that Big Data. Social media feeds, RFID sensor data, and GPS data are just some of the Big Data types that businesses need today to make strategic decisions that move their companies forward.  

Unfortunately, the majority of articles miss an important point: analyzing Big Data in a vacuum is not going to get your company the big ‘a-ha’ you want – or need – in the competitive business environment of today. To be truly valuable, Big Data needs to be put into context in order for it to impact your organization in big ways.

First, on its own, Big Data is just that: a whole lot of data. But what does it mean? That’s hard to say unless you integrate it with other data from within your organization, like transactional data in your data warehouse and customer information from your CRM system, and from outside your company (say, third-party location-based data or demographic information). Combined, integrated, and viewed in the same workflow with the rest of your business’ data, your Big Data comes alive across all parts of your business. From better products and services to improved product reliability and usability to micro-targeted customer acquisition and retention, Big Data enables you to gain visibility into previously hidden risks and opportunities.

Second, access to Big Data is often limited to a small number of data geeks and statistical gurus in windowless offices who don’t have a view of the outside world let alone your day-to-day business needs. They may be clever, but they don’t have the business context. Forget about trying to take advantage of Big Data for behavior-based customer segmentation or designing hyper-local promotional plans; grab a number and get in line. That’s why access to Big Data needs to expand and move to those on the frontlines of your business, to your LOB managers who understand what the findings mean to your business – and what actions to take to change course or go full steam ahead.

So while Alteryx welcomes the increased visibility of Big Data, we think these efforts need to go a step further and not recreate the technology silos of the past. Embracing Big Data on its own simply won’t provide the value that companies are hoping for – and need – and much time and money will be spent on red herrings that take the business in the wrong direction. To unlock the true potential of Big Data you must first put it in context with your internal and third-party demographic data, and then make use of it in the context of how your business actually works. 

Dipesh Patel

Director of Product Marketing at Alteryx.

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