MAD Perspectives Blog

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 No Cure for Data Addicts

Peggy Dau - Monday, August 19, 2013

Addiction. It has a negative connotation, yet every industry has the same addiction. We live in a data driven society where every action must be justified by numbers that support investment, change, penalty, promotion, success, failure - you get the picture. When was the last time you your day did not rationalize a business activity  without dependent numbers? It's no wonder that big data is enjoying such growth. With a mentality reinforced by friends, colleagues, management, wall street and even the federal government, we seek numbers to support every decision we make. But, do these numbers really provide the "fix" we crave?

It's Monday, so that means we are measuring box office success of the latest movies. Just in case you missed it, "The Butler" was considered a success, coming out of its opening weekend with revenue of $25M, against a cost of $30M.  On the other hand, "Jobs" is considered weak on opening weekend earnings of $6.7M against a budget of $12.7M.  At the same time Trendrr, the television engagement tracking service, shares that NBC Sports investment in Premier League Soccer is a success - at least for this week - taking the number one and two spots as related to social volume. What do these numbers say to you? Do they influence your desire to see these movies or programs?  Probably not, but, they validate investment in actual production, acquisition of rights or advertising.

Why do we collect the data and analyze the numbers? Because they are an attainable metric that shows progress against stated or unstated goals. There is a lot of attention being paid to social media measurement or the ROI of social media. The original measures of success - numbers of followers, tweets or likes, do not provide a tangible return on investment. But they do provide an indication of consumer interest. The thing to remember about numbers, is that they are only accurate in retrospect. You cannot reveal a number until an action or many actions have occurred. The bigger question is if these numbers can be a predictor of future success or failure.

The financial services industry has been using sophisticated data-based models for years in its attempt to improve investor return. Technologists are using and modifying equally sophisticated algorithms to monitor and measure social media activity - also with an eye toward predicting the best channels through which businesses can engage their customers and ultimately increase revenue. In all cases, the next wave of investment is to bring context to all of these numbers. I've written about the importance of context in social media monitoring, and filtering of "dirty" data. Natural language processing continues to advance with an understanding that prescriptive analytics is the next phase of big data investment.

For all the attention to customer data, there is also an increasing number of internal data available to businesses. Whether this is related to supply chain, sales, research & development, content management or financials, this is the data upon which the business relies for ongoing performance. Social technologies do exist behind the firewall and changing the ways corporations connect and collaborate across geographies, business units and other corporate silos. The McKinsey Global Institute has already stated that there is $1 Trillion in value that corporations can create through the use of social technologies. The question is how businesses define what that value looks like and how they create it.

Context will be increasingly important as big data, cloud, mobile and social all come together to provide data and numbers like never before. What does this mean for business? It means smarter, yet more complex content management systems, technologies to capture, integrate and analyze data from an increasing volume of sources and devices (think big data + social media monitoring + machine-to-machine) and the emergence of  consultants to help business make sense of all the data. Rather than seek rehab to overcome this addiction to numbers, we will continue to feed our addiction through creation of tools and processes to attain even more data.

What's your perspective?