Big Data and the Call for Evidence-based Management

October 24, 2011
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big data opportunities and challenges photo (big data)Many discussions around big data are often centered on the sheer volume of the information involved, including the massive quantities of unstructured data that’s being generated in social media and other channels.

big data opportunities and challenges photo (big data)Many discussions around big data are often centered on the sheer volume of the information involved, including the massive quantities of unstructured data that’s being generated in social media and other channels. This includes text, images, emails, tweets, videos, voice messages and other information that people share on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums, etc.

Unstructured data is expanding exponentially. As John Myers (@johnlmyers44) notes in a recent Enterprise Management blog, “often times what is missed are the analysis goals of the big-data environment.” In other words, not seeing the forest for the trees.

In his blog, Myers points to a recent article by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D., founding partners of Peppers & Rogers Group, a customer management consultancy. In their article, Peppers and Rogers talk about the importance of focusing first on facts and analysis and not becoming overwhelmed by the flood of data that’s available to us.

Peppers and Rogers point to evidence-based medicine for guidance. As Peppers describes in a July 2011 Fast Company blog, evidence-based medicine involves the use of statistical studies and quantified research by physicians to form diagnoses. The value of relying on the statistical findings, writes Peppers, is that it enables doctors to make decisions not only based on their own perceptions but also from the best available evidence.

‘The reason doctors are encouraged to look at the statistical evidence before rendering their own judgments is because of the confirmation bias, our natural human tendency to place more credence in whatever facts or numbers confirm the point of view we already have,” says Peppers.

Likewise, in order to deal with the crush of unstructured data that’s now available, business leaders will also “need to put aside their pre-conceived notions and rely more on what the numbers actually say,” Peppers adds.

For his part, Myers agrees with the evidence-based management approach of Peppers and Rogers. He even suggests taking it a step further. Myers asserts that “any successful big-data analytical environment needs to focus on how the data can impact a company’s top line, bottom line or both when it is conceived and constructed rather than focusing on how many petabytes of information will be stored.”

Indeed, big data is best utilized when companies focus on how the information can affect their businesses or how it can be applied to improving business performance and not when the focal point is placed on the volume or structure of the data.