Is big data a potential distraction?

Over recent months, I’ve read numerous articles that have reported that many executives are struggling with ‘Big Data’. In fact, many studies report that upwards of 50-60% of executives say that their firms are weak or struggling when it comes to capturing, analyzing and using the vast volumes of customer data that is within their reach.

Given these reports, I’ve started to wonder about the impact of these struggles and whether, or not, ‘Big Data’ could be a distraction to many firms, particularly when it is labelled a ‘strategic priority’.

Now, to some, that may sound like a heinous thing to say. I’m sorry. But, hear me out.

Before I start, however, let me clear about what I am not saying.

I’m not saying that the amount and type of customer data that is available to firms these days isn’t, potentially, important or very useful.

What I am suggesting, though, is that, if many executives are struggling with the new ‘data’ element of their roles, this big, extra demand on their time could be having a negative impact on their focus on other areas, particularly their focus on delivering a great service and experience to their customers?

Firms already have a lot to deal with these days if they are to be competitive and remain so:

  1. The business environment is becoming more and more complex. In recent years, we’ve seen an explosion of channels that customers can use to interact with firms. Each of these new channels requires their own style, content and skills if firms are to thrive in them.
  2. Skills shortages. We are coming out of a depressed period of economic activity and, whilst employment is going up, many firms don’t seem to be hiring lots of new people to deal with an increasingly complex, demanding and competitive environment. In fact, many report that it’s not that they don’t want to hire new people, but that they are facing difficulties finding the right staff with the right skills to meet these new demands.
  3. Changing expectations and falling service levels. Customer service levels, levels of satisfaction, retention and loyalty are widely reported to be falling. Whilst some might blame falling standards and priorities at firms for this, others would put this down to rapidly changing expectations of customers. Nevertheless, if customer expectations are changing it’s up to firms to respond to their evolving needs and if they don’t then their customers are unlikely to be happy or loyal.

Taking all of these things into account……more complexity, more work, new skills but a similar number of people to deliver…..Isn’t it only natural that if we add even more into the mix, i.e. harnessing the potential of ‘Big Data’, there is a risk that some things may slip?

We’re only human after all and we can only spin a certain number of plates at any one time.

Big data could be great and could offer huge rewards.

But, many businesses would benefit from asking themselves if the time and effort that they are devoting to their ‘Big Data’ projects is the best use of their skills and limited resources.



This post originally appeared on my column here.

3 comments On Is big data a potential distraction?

  • Adrian, I think that depends on what they are trying to get out of their exploration of big data.

    If it is to focus on delivering a great service and experience to their customers then maybe it is worthwhile.

    If it is to find a magic bullet then I suspect it is a fool’s errand


    • James,
      I agree with you that the usefulness of big data and analytics will largely be dependent on what question people are trying to answer.

      However, I suspect that many are looking for a ‘magic bullet’ or maybe it’s just another band-wagon that is being jumped on.


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