Big Data, Small Data, or the One Thing?

A recent interesting white paper from the NRF shop.org think tank that explored one of the issues of so called big data.  The white paper “Small Data is Key to Successfully Mastering Big Data” spoke to keeping the key point of what the retailer is attempting to solve from getting lost in the forest of big data.  Big Data or today’s reality of new disparate data sources from social media, smartphones, etc. can introduce important new data points for a retailer to learn about their customer and more importantly how they make purchasing decisions.


What's not to like about being more data driven in understanding customer behavior?  One fear is that too many organizations already make data mining, synchronizing and reporting on the data far too complex with existing resources.   A question becomes - do the great new sources of data tell us a story to which we then react and act; or should we take our annual objectives and KPI’s and focus on that data that drives the attainment or betterment of current key business goals?


Many organizations will decide we need to do both and the result will be a cacophony of voices, PowerPoint encyclopedias, and departmental tug of wars on where to invest precious capital dollars.  With the new data sources it will be a challenge to keep from losing inertia while awash in the seas of “what if’s”. 


There is the realization that big data is also more a concept rather than a term that is clearly defined among most business professionals.  In fact if you ask around the office you’ll get as many definitions as people you ask.  However, recent industry projections for big data related services is more than $30 billion in 2015 so the topic isn’t going away.


So many retailers will begin, if they’re not already down the road, of capturing, storing and synthesizing much more data than they have historically.  It will be curious as to how companies will operate with big data in 2015.  There was the movie, City Slicker, from the nineties where maybe the old cowboy Curly has some wisdom for us today.


You may remember that Mitch Robbins from Manhattan, who was going through a mid-life crisis took a two week vacation to participate in a cattle drive out west.  In the now famous scene where Mitch and the crass, aged cowboy are riding side by side.  Curly admonishes Mitch to focus on the “one thing”.  Mitch is puzzled and asks “what is the one thing?”  To which Curly says only you can figure that out. 


Is big data the new key for an organization to understand their “one thing” that will drive sales or greatly reduce costs or will the introduction of big data throw light on so many things that the real keys to performance in 2015 will get lost?  I’m more of the camp that current KPI’s reflect the “one thing”.  Big data will lead to new insights and new strategies, but in 2015 there is a cattle drive in front of us.  Let’s deliver the one thing.