Remember when you went on vacation as a kid and your dad stopped off at the local gas station or AAA to get the coveted “map” that was the size of today’s iphone but unfolded to take up the hood of the old 1976 Granada? entire The information contained on that map was basic: States, Cities and Highway names with a few added “features” to denote rest areas etc…Today, I can zoom into my Google maps app all the way down to the street level view with such granularity that I can read the sign located outside a particular business letting me know the parking restrictions.
Data in the past was like the old trusty gas station map. It gave us some direction and insight but was exceptionally limited and completely visually barren. Today’s Google maps app is a kin to “Big Data”. It provides you with an exponential treasure chest of data points and does so with warp speed. So what? That’s the question many business leaders are asking today around this concept of “Big Data”. You can almost hear the old school business gurus saying “When I wanted to go from New York to Florida, that old gas station map did just fine! Why do we need to complicate the simple!!” In some respects, they are correct. However, it’s not the fault of the data…or Big Data in our case. The problem lies with understanding the story the data tells and ultimately with…the storyteller. I am in the process of putting the finishing touches on a book around how to use storytelling as a strategy to grow your business. It’s roughly two hundred pages in length. Imagine if I took every word on every page, ran a program to jumble every word and then let the computer randomly place words in any order on any page with no relation to context or language. The book would make absolutely no sense and no one would ever gain even a single insight by reading it. That’s a bit how analytics appears to most C-level business leaders. They don’t want to spend hours, days or weeks trying to “de-code” the book just to understand the story. Now take this example a step further. Let’s say the book is War and Peace and instead of jumbling the words on its massive 1400+ pages, we actually jumbled each letter of each word and followed the same random placement exercise. That’s how Big Data feels to most executives.
Its really about the three “S’s” not the three “V’s”
We can debate the definition of true Big Data and we can create new and improved analytic “tools” to decipher big data but none of this actually helps us turn Big Data into Big Strategy! We all know that volume, velocity and variety are the main attributes of Big data. Again, I ask the question, so what!?! I work with CEO’s and Presidents of major companies whose number one priority is to create shareholder value and increase the profitability of their organizations. Today’s business executive is saying this; “Show me how to use Big Data to increase my top line growth and overall profitability and do it in a simple, straightforward, timely manner and you’ll have my undivided attention”. With that in mind, the way innovative companies will leverage Big Data in the future is to drive the “volume, velocity and variety” towards a strategy of “Simplify, Summarize and Standardize”. Now your Big Data story will be clear, concise and easy to drive the insights through the organization for increased effective decision-making, clear accountability and ultimately, better results. Think of it this way, if I asked you to give me a thirty second summary of the last book you read, could you do it? Of course you could. Executives today want the summary of the book and the insights you gleaned from it. They don’t want you to “show” them the hundreds of thousands of data points you analyzed to reach your conclusion. In today’s world of exponential data growth, do we need Data Scientists, yes indeed…but we need “Data Storytellers” even more!