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Wayne Eckerson

Welcome to Wayne's World, my blog that illuminates the latest thinking about how to deliver insights from business data and celebrates out-of-the-box thinkers and doers in the business intelligence (BI), performance management and data warehousing (DW) fields. Tune in here if you want to keep abreast of the latest trends, techniques, and technologies in this dynamic industry.

About the author >

Wayne has been a thought leader in the business intelligence field since the early 1990s. He has conducted numerous research studies and is a noted speaker, blogger, and consultant. He is the author of two widely read books: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (2005, 2010) and The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders (2012).

Wayne is founder and principal consultant at Eckerson Group,a research and consulting company focused on business intelligence, analytics and big data.

Have you ever seen anything more hyped in the history of information management than big data? I haven't. Ok, artificial intelligence probably incited a similar media storm, but that was before my time.

What's in a number? The ironic thing is that data by itself has no intrinsic value. For example, if I gave you three numbers--100,000, 300,000, and 500,000--would you say they provide any value to you or your organization? Of course not. What if I told you those numbers referred to US currency? That's context, but no value. What if I said those figures referred to your manufacturing organization's net profits for the past three quarters? Now, that's interesting and certainly good news; but there is still no business value.

But what if said that your profit growth is due to home builders in the Midwest who are bundling your company's biggest electrical generators into their building packages in response to severe storms caused by climate change? Now, that's data--or insight--that you can take to the bank. For instance, armed with this knowledge, your organization might manufacture more high-end generators and fewer lower-end ones to accommodate the new demand. Or even better, you might identify the builders in the Midwest who haven't yet bundled your high-end generators with their home products and give them a 10% coupon to follow the lead of their peers.

Insights and actions. The point is that data--even big data--is useless without analysis and insight. Therefore, instead of talking about "big data", we should be talking about "big data analytics." Joining analytics and data can deliver real business value.

But there is a caveat: analysis without actions produces no value. It's one thing to know what drives profit growth in our example above, it's another to do something about it. Insights without actions don't get you very far. So, instead of talking about "big data analytics" we should really be talking about "big data actionable analytics."

Impacts. At risk of getting didactic, even actionable analytics doesn't guarantee business value. That's because actions that don't impact the organization in a positive direction are useless. That's like a salesman saying he should receive a commission for saying and doing all the right things with a client even though he didn't win the deal.

So, the most technically accurate term for this new phenomenon that is taking our industry by storm is: "Big data insights that drive actions that help an organization achieve its goals." Of course, that is too wordy and would never fly as an industry buzzword. But you get the point: data without analysis, and analysis without action, and action without positive impact, deliver no value.

So when you hear the hype surrounding big data, remember that data by itself has no value; it's what you do with it that counts.

Posted February 1, 2013 2:19 PM
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1 Comment

"The point is that data--even big data--is useless without analysis and insight."

Couldn't agree more! Having it doesn't mean anything if you don't actually do something with it. And if you don't know how to mine your data insights are going to get lost in the clutter.

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