Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Big data is big news, and nowhere was this more apparent than at this year’s Adobe Digital Marketing Summit in Salt Lake City.
Here, we list eight things we took away about big data and data analytics from the event.
1. Organisations don’t agree on the best way to deal with data
Data might be the common problem all organisations face in their quest to be more competitive, customer-centric, efficient and innovative, but the approach to tackling it is widely diverse.
As was made plain in a panel dispute between Fox Sports and Turner Broadcasting during Adobe Summit 2014, there is no clear agreement on how organisations handle digital disruption and the data explosion that has come with it. Representatives from the two sides sparred over whether to adopt a ‘hub and spoke’ approach to data analytics by investing in centralised, specialist teams, or to bring data insights and analytics capability into existing teams to better utilise.
There was also debate on when to invest in technology, what an ‘operating system of data’ actually entails, innovation versus disrupting existing revenue streams, and the extent to which organisations are able to rely on data insights.
“Traditionally, the people looking at the churn data sit in the research teams, in brands, ad serving teams. We recognised that to understand the physics and how we were engaging with customers, we had to bring that information together,” explained turner Broadcasting Systems’ senior director of analytics product strategy and data governance, Colin Coleman.
“You can’t start integrating data together unless you’re standardised. The unsexy part of this is building that foundation on top for a house of data. That was a big upfront investment, but necessary to unlock how to bring all that data together.”
But until organisations have the “operating system of data”, and see the clear correlation between data insights and significant bottom-line impact, Fox Sports chief digital officer, Jeff Misenti, said data utilisation is about serving the audience as best it can and protecting revenue streams.
“As much we believe the data will guide us into doing things, we are still making great leaps of faith,” he said. “We’re collecting all this information in the hopes it will lead us to new things, but so much is still based on gut feel.
“We haven’t found the [data] haystack, so how can you expect to find the needle?”
2. There is an overarching framework you can utilise to make data actionable
Of course, a difference of opinion doesn’t mean that there aren’t clear steps you can take to improve data utilisation and, more importantly, take action.
According to Adobe, the five steps marketers should be using to improve their chances of actually getting value out of data for business decision-making are:
- Ingest – Connect, store and merge data in an organised fashion
- Distill insights– Turn that data into insights and put it through processes so you can do something with it
- Curate - Condense data insights into consumable packages for the business to use
- Syndicate - Deliver data back to the lines of business
- Optimise - Personalise data for different audiences, test and learn
3. General knowledge about big data is diverse and often contradictory
Big data means many different things to many different people. While the official definition of big data is the four ‘Vs’ – volume, variety, velocity and veracity – it’s clear many marketers and companies are using the term to describe everything from basic-level analytics and reporting on internal data sets, through to real-time responsiveness using third-party data consumption and predictive analytics.
For Live Nation’s director of strategy and analytics, Jonathan Watts, who spoke on the Thinking Small: A panel on making big data actionable panel, big data ultimately comes back to the business challenges he faces. “I don’t really use the term big data; for me it describes a problem I run into,” he said.
“Usually when I’m dealing with a specific data set, I can generally work with that within the tool that I have. But when you start to try and cobble together data sets from different sources, you run into a problem where the tools don’t work anymore. That’s what big data is to me – when you start to try and combine things and you run into processing and technology power issues that you need to solve it.”
Big data can be all different sizes depending on your business, said Digital Clarity Group president and principal analyst, Scott Liewehr. He described big data today as the “phenomenon of utilising data to make more informed business decisions”.
“Up until a year ago, I had been using the official definition of big data – which is that it’s data so large your databases can’t handle it,” he said. “But I’ve stopped focusing on the true definition of the term and made it akin to ‘mobile first’ – it doesn’t mean you have to have a mobile strategy first, but it started to make us think from the perspective of the customer.
“If we are thinking about using data, gathering insights about our customers, processes and products and making informed decisions based on that data, that’s a good thing.”
4. Data is only as useful as your ability to action it
Whatever big data means to you, it’s useless without the business case, processes and people in place to make it actionable.
In a customer video during the Thinking Small: A panel on making big data actionable panel session, Apollo Group’s June Dershewitz highlighted the difference between the buzz of big data, and the reality it should be presenting for businesses. She used an example of hourly alerts on her company’s website as something that helps maintain revenue and be more responsive to customers.
“We need the data to ask the questions about what is important to us as a business, and how we can then use data to help achieve those objectives,” Dershewitz said. “There’s a lot of conversation about real-time, but you only actually need data as quickly as you can turn around and take action on it. But if we can act on the data quickly, we should be able to get access to the data quickly.”
One of the challenges many organisations have in common is where to start with big data. Digital Clarity Group’s Scott Liewehr suggested the best place to get started is by utilising data insights to optimise what you’re doing already.
“How can you support what you’re doing already and optimise that, as well as do it better,” he asked. “For example, if you’ve started a process to segment the audience in some way: What data can help you understand whether or not the segments are in fact accurate? How can I take what I’m doing, where I’m making some assumptions, and validate those through data? That’s a relatively easy first step to bringing data-driven decision making into your organisation.”
Live Nation’s Jonathan Watts also outlined a three-step process his company uses to make sure it’s actioning data well:
- Decide what’s important: Choose what you can test. “What are the big questions that can drive your company forward,” he advised. “Don’t even think about the data; just ask what are the things that can make a difference to your business, then worry about the data limitations later.”
- Create and test smaller hypotheses using ‘medium-sized’ data tests: This will give you a good idea of whether the answer is A or B. “It doesn’t have to be perfect,” Watts adds. “Use available data and don’t wait”.
- Build a production ‘big data solution’. This tool set and insights should then be democratised through your organisation to be used most effectively, Watts said.
To ensure her organisation has the people and process in place to utilise data insights, AOL’s senior marketing director, Jennifer Towns, said the group has brought testing and optimisation into every aspect of consumer engagement and content delivery.
“What we know about our customers is driving the experiences, offers, products as are giving them, and the content. And it’s very personalised,” Towns said. “When we do this, we see huge increases in our core KPI. And at any point in time, if you deliver a lift on an experience, reduce churn, or drive more search volume, it’s a very easy sell to the executives that data matters.”