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Less data, more insight, better decisions

Big Data can help in mapping and understanding customer behaviors, and in developing one-to-one marketing programs or innovative services. However, Big Data is too often presented as a technological capability subsequently requiring armies of data scientists to mine and analyse data.

Yes, managing and exploiting the growing amount of internal and external data is a necessary condition to steer business performance. But it is far from a sufficient condition.

In a recent meeting around a business case for a new investment, one manager formulated as it follows “we don’t need to ask [the analytical department] more numbers, we need to figure out  first what we want to measure”.  Data science should support decision making. For this to work properly, I think a good decision process could look as follows:

(1)    Ask the right questions – what do we want to learn from data, i.e. how much uncertainty do we want reduced ?

(2)    Provide a visual framework – one that describes the bigger picture as well as the connections between the questions – a value chain, a process diagram, a sales funnel,.. This can keep a group or audience in sync with respect to the scope of what we want to measure.

(3)    Analyse data – should be about the data as much as about the analysis. I mean linking results back to the business problem and communicating/presenting conclusions is crucial.

(4)    Refine progressively  – questions provoque more questions. This is OK, as long if we don’t deviate from the goal, exceed timings or boile the ocean.

(5)    Decide – and don't forget to communicate and followup underlying assumptions or uncertainties.

A book that treats the role of measurements in taking business decisions very well is Douglas Hubbard’s “How to measure Anything – Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business”.

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Comment by Fedor Andrianov on June 18, 2012 at 10:28pm

Excellent thought, but the practical problem with this (right) approach is that insight pretty much requires hands-on experience and domain expertise which often takes a long time to acquire. It takes time to become able to ask the right questions, while we often look for "right now" solutions.

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