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Big data vs data?

What really matters is better data

It’s no surprise that many C-Level execs are citing Business Intelligence and Analytics as their #1 priority as part of their 2015 planning activities. For many organizations, this means Big Data. But while Big Data certainly seems to be the current ‘must have’ with companies enthusiastically harvesting more data than ever before, far too often they do not consider how to do anything meaningful with it before they start collecting it.

And there is certainly a lot of data out there to collect.  As individual consumers we are now generating vast - actually unimaginable - amounts of data.  I read recently that as consumers we generate 5 Exabytes of data every two days (an Exabyte is a billion billion bytes and if printed would fill 20 billion four drawer filing cabinets). 

However, because there's so much data available, if we don't understand what we're looking for and why we're looking for it, it can confuse and mislead.  Without a business focus and a specific problem to be solved, data of this nature is an ever-increasing distraction (and cost) to the business that isn't generating any related benefits. This is why we need to focus on Little Data: segments of data that are accurate, personalized, in context and aligned to business outcomes.  Data that enables users make better decisions.

So where do you start?  Luckily the advances in technology have made it cheap and easy to capture, analyze and store that data.  So, as with any performance improvement initiative, it is important to first understand your current position and define your objectives.  You then use 'big' analytics to identify the drivers of positive business outcomes that will help your organization achieve its aims.

However, at an individual employee level, knowing what those drivers are won't immediately allow you to understand what you need to do differently to get your own performance to the requisite benchmark. This is where Little Data comes in as it delivers the intelligence that pinpoints the specific skills, knowledge and behaviors that will help to improve those drivers. 

If employees understand these links, they can see where the gaps are in their current skills, how they compare to the average, what they have to do to improve and be provided access to the appropriate training and coaching.  And if you are able to provide employees with the capability and autonomy to see where they need to improve and by how much, and access to resource to allow them to self-manage that improvement, this is a great example of Little Data in action.

A really important thing to remember is that this focus should be a continuous journey and not a 'one hit' wonder.  As individuals improve, and as a result the organization's performance improves, continual analysis will show the measurable link between employee and business performance.  It will also show how these drivers of positive outcomes change over time as the bar gets raised ever higher and will allow you to create a focused, continual professional development platform that equips your employees with the all the relevant resources and allows you to understand the return on investment of L&D initiatives.

Big Data may be good at an organizational level, pulling together structured and unstructured data sources and "datafying" previously unrelated points, but at a more granular level, providing individuals with nuggets of timely, individualized and contextualized data that allow them to do their jobs better will have the more significant impact.  

So rather than defining data by size, at Silver Lining Solutions we prefer to think in terms of Better Data, which is combination of insights generated at an organizational level (Big Data) reinforced and supplemented by specific, personalized data (Little Data) that allows organizations to understand and improve the link between employee behavior and ultimate business outcomes.