Big data: too many answers not enough questions

Big data

While I applaud the innovative work going into generating big data, the reality is that some companies are drowning in it. You can analyse data to the point of madness but still not know what to do with it. And without a strategy and purpose for making sense of it all, it’s just more and more data for data’s sake.

A recurring theme has crept into my customer discussions. The overarching message being: no more data generating technologies or data analytics until someone could help us figure out why we’re doing this and what we should be looking for. In other words: no more answers please until we can get some questions.

Business and behaviour before big data

I recently spoke at an Internet of Things (IoT) seminar in Helsinki. It was a very techie space, crowded with people and products showcasing data-enabling technologies such as sensors and connectivity solutions. To my mind, the focus was a lot on the technology and maybe too little on the business and behaviour side.

What if we were to first look at the context in which companies operate and what they’re trying to achieve today, tomorrow and beyond. Then consider the role of data and predictive analytics and only from there, think about which enabling technologies would be the right ones.

With purpose, you’re better positioned

A co-speaker at the same IoT event, CIO Soili Mäkinen from Cargotec reaffirmed this thinking in her remarks, stressing that: “Only when you’ve understood your strategic purpose clearly should you start to identify the key questions you want to put to your data.”

Exceptions to every rule

Of course sometimes you get lucky. IRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaner has recently revealed a surprise secondary talent. Besides sucking dirt, the Roomba can map people’s homes.

This discovery was a clear case of first finding the answer and then looking around for the question. With the data collection technology already in place, Roomba have been unintentionally building a body of anonymous human behavioural data, which IRobot looks set to turn into a whole new business channel selling data to service providers like Google.

Data access not the issue, make it relevant

Too often, we get so excited about the technologies that we forget to ask the important questions of what, how and why. And this is where our customers clearly want help.

So maybe it’s time for us to get our heads out of the Cloud and apply time and resource to first figuring out what’s relevant. Because let’s face it, when it comes to big data, whatever you’re going to want, you’ll be able to get, if not today then tomorrow. You have all the answers. The only thing missing is the question. What is your question?

Mika Toikka VTT

Mika Toikka, Vice President, Sales and Business Development
Twitter: @mjstoikka

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