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Business Strategy

Answer the big questions before you begin Big Data

August 29, 2016

I recently attended the first Big Data Wisconsin conference, which was part of Madison’s larger Forward Festival.

With all kinds of arts, business, design and science activities going on all week, many of them free, Forward Festival really brings a lot of great energy to the city.

As a marketing professional and a consumer, I find “Big Data” fascinating. There are so many ways in which the knowledge we can gain from gathering data can improve lives from designing more effective chronic disease management programs to improving classroom performance. On the dark side, there are too many unresolved issues around privacy, who owns your data, and what companies can do with your data that doesn’t necessarily benefit you.

I will confess that once terms like “Hadoop” and “Apache Kafka” started flying around, some of the talks were the equivalent of Gary Larson’s famous cartoon of what we say and what dogs hear. There was plenty of “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger” where, much like the cartoon dog, I just nodded my head without having a clue of what was being said.

However, what I heard over and over again (besides Hadoop), was a very fundamental issue with many development projects, whether the focus is designing a medical device, creating a service model or starting a Big Data initiative. It's that big, thorny sticking point: Why are you even doing this in the first place?

Dr. Jignesh Patel, a computer sciences professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and entrepreneur, noted during his presentation that this lack of fundamental prep work is common and leads to many Big Data initiatives that are a waste of time and money. A recent study by Forrester showed that 51 percent of companies with connected products are collecting Internet of Things (IOT) data, but most of them aren’t using it to provide any insights relating to customers.

It's that big, thorny sticking point: Why are you even doing this in the first place?

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