I’m feeling thankful that big data seems to be starting to take a back seat to sound business judgment. This is not saying that data isn’t critically important, but think of it this way: Analytics is the GPS of your business. You are still driving, and must continue to use good judgment!
There has been a lot of hype concerning big data, but I think the myths are finally starting to fall away. Yes, big data sets allow us to do all kinds of things better, such as understanding and targeting (matchmaking) our customers, enhancing business practices, affecting personal performance (with data gathered by wearable devices), improving health care and scientific research, optimizing machines and devices—you name it, there’s some kind of process where big data comes in handy.
It’s how you use these larger sets of data to make judgments that’s key. Just because we can get our hands on huge amounts of data in today’s world doesn’t mean we know what to do with it or even how to interpret it. Biases still occur and hubris abounds (Google Flu Trends missed the swine flu pandemic in 2009 and hasn't been able to accurately predict the prevalence of flu since then).
Big data, like technology in general, isn’t in itself a panacea; it’s a tool. And as with any tool, you need good judgment when using it to perform a task. People are naturally distrustful of indiscriminant use of data by businesses. In fact, a Pew study on information privacy recently found that 91 percent of adults believe consumers have lost control over their personal data, and 64 percent of those surveyed believe that advertisers should be more closely monitored by the U.S. government.
Every day a new set of tools for mining data and generating analytics comes out, but we’ve got to be careful here. As marketers we need to guide our tech toys so we make the right choices with the data we gather—choices that our customers and prospects will find morally and culturally acceptable, and valuable to them.
We’re finding out that things are more complex in a big data environment, which gives rise to security issues, storage issues, legal and geographical boundaries and various compliance issues. It’s a good thing that we’re slowing down to get a handle on these things and using tools that allow us to do so. There’s no substitute for careful planning, oversight and, most of all, human judgment.
Today’s technological advances (including big data) give us a lot to be thankful for. However, I’m particularly grateful this holiday season that cooler heads are beginning to prevail, and businesses are once again putting on their seat belts before taking all that horsepower for a spin.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s remember to turn off our cell phones at the dinner table, give thanks for plain old common sense and enjoy some relationship nurturing and human interaction. Now please pass the cranberry sauce!
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