What’s the difference between big data and business analytics?
I offend people daily. People tell me they do “big data” and that they’ve been doing big data for years. Their argument is that they’re doing business analytics on a larger and larger scale, so surely by now it must be “big data”.
There’s an essential difference between true big data techniques, as actually performed at surprisingly few firms but exemplified by Google, and the human-intervention data-driven techniques referred to as business analytics.
No matter how big the data you use is, at the end of the day, if you’re doing business analytics, you have a person looking at spreadsheets or charts or numbers, making a decision after possibly a discussion with 150 other people, and then tweaking something about the way the business is run.
If you’re really doing big data, then those 150 people probably get
fired laid off, or even more likely are never hired in the first place, and the computer is programmed to update itself via an optimization method.
That’s not to say it doesn’t also spit out monitoring charts and numbers, and it’s not to say no person takes a look every now and then to make sure the machine is humming along, but there’s no point at which the algorithm waits for human intervention.
In other words, in a true big data setup, the human has stepped outside the machine and lets the machine do its thing. That means, of course, that it takes way more to set up that machine in the first place, and probably people make huge mistakes all the time in doing this, but sometimes they don’t. Google search got pretty good at this early on.
So with a business analytics set up we might keep track of the number of site visitors and a few sales metrics so we can later try to (and fail to) figure out whether a specific email marketing campaign had the intended effect.
But in a big data set-up it’s typically much more microscopic and detail oriented, collecting everything it can, maybe 1,000 attributed of a single customer, and figuring out what that guy is likely to do next time, how much they’ll spend, and the magic question, whether there will even be a next time.
So the first thing I offend people about is that they’re not really part of the “big data revolution”. And the second thing is that, usually, their job is potentially up for grabs by an algorithm.