MAD Perspectives Blog

 Hey Big Data, Don't Forget We're Human!

Peggy Dau - Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Every where you turn, there is more data. Social networks provide data revealing consumer likes and dislikes (and it would be nice if Facebook created a thumbs down button!). Analytics firms promise to crunch this data and provide insight to drive sales, marketing and product strategies. Netflix produced "House of Cards" based on its analysis of their subscriber data. That success led to them to produce new episodes of "Arrested Development" and "Orange is the New Black" - neither of which has had the same impact as House of Cards. So, is that data really as revealing as we think?

As always the devil is in the details. While the data itself can highlight trends it also includes a lot of "noise". By this I mean that is hard to sift through the incredible volume of data to find the meaningful insights that can influence meaningful actions. Companies, large and small, are looking to data to help them improve their business. Whether it is to reduce the cost of doing business or to drive an effective product launch, companies must rationalize their decisions. Data is the key. It is tangible. It cannot be disputed. Or, can it?

The interpretation of data requires more than analytical tools. It requires an understanding of context. How many times have we read quotes or seen video snippets that infer a meaning different than what the speaker intended? It is the same with analyzing data. Structured data is easier as it is typically machine driven data, derived from content stored in databases. Unstructured data, such as that found in social networks, blogs, audio or video files presents new challenges. Often this data reflects thoughts that are a reaction to other content. Understanding the relationship between these different types of data is critical to gleaning the most relevant insight. As Colin Powell once said "Experts often possess more data than judgement."

So how do we apply judgement to analysis of structured and unstructured data to guide strategies, tactics, actions? We don't leave it solely to data collection tools or data analysis programs. We remember to use our common sense and intelligence when looking at the data. Yes, filtering that data is hugely helpful and the tools that can help with that sifting are big time savers. But individual or group knowledge cannot and should not be neglected. It is this insight born from experience that drives innovation, creativity as well as pragmatic action. As your business incorporates social data, subscriber data and other big data into its planning and decision making processes, don't forget to be human and remember there are humans on the receiving end of those decisions who can make or break your business.

What's your perspective?