Ask the Expert: Big data is not just for big companies


Having experienced more than two decades in the marketing and advertising industry, I am both awed and humbled to have watched and help drive the rapid changes in the proliferation and availability of data to clients.

As someone who watched the internet bubble firsthand during the late 1990s and early 2000s, this explosion of big data has been quite similar. Companies today are far less reluctant to wade into the big data pool than they were into the internet. But the challenge with big data today is, “Where do I start?”

The availability of data, and more importantly, knowing how to operationalize it, have contributed to the transformation of so many different aspects of business operations. However, as data availability grows, so does the challenge of extracting valuable insights.

Big data doesn’t have to be just for big companies. And it doesn’t have to be a six-figure initiative (or more). Small and midsize companies recognize they have the data they need to make smarter decisions. You know where that data is within your organization. And likely, you can get to some or most of it through downloads and Excel reports — but then you typically have to cobble that together into some sort of giant Excel spreadsheet to get the answers you need. Certainly not ideal. Nor is it anything you can operationalize throughout your organization.

So, back to, “Where do I start?” Engaging a partner to help you automate the procurement/integration of data and ultimately its analysis or visualization is a question we’re asked about often. And to deliver the right results to a client we have to work together as a team to identify and prioritize what needs to be sourced and ultimately delivered.

We have a diligent process that helps gain agreement on the data to be sourced and how and when it’s to be delivered. This is the most important step in the process, because without it, clients continue to add items to the project because they get excited about what can be done. Oftentimes, they want to add in data they may or may not even use. In our world, it’s called “scope creep” — and it’s a project killer.

Establishing mutually agreed upon steps or phases of development is crucial to the successful implementation of any project — yes, even small ones! Sometimes the simplest of projects are far more complex than most realize. Just retrieving “revenue” for example sounds straightforward. But if you’re retrieving that through an API (application programming interface) with data coming out as XML (extensible markup language), there’s any number of things that have to be transformed in the data.

For example; you still need to identify unique keys, un-nest parts of that data stream, remove sales tax, and possibly even join it to other data sources — just to get your key metric of “revenue.”

We like to walk through some of these processes with our clients in an effort to help them understand their own data. It is your data after all, so look and see what’s in it! This often sets off “light bulb ideas” as they learn what is and what isn’t available and how it can be manipulated or analyzed.

Finding the right partner to help with these initiatives can be challenging. Many want you to use their own proprietary tools or resources. Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of this as you’re essentially tied into that partner “forever” now. And sometimes your partnerships need to change and grow. So find a partner who uses third-party tools. Tools you can adopt, learn or transfer, if your relationship with that partner ends.

Find a partner who can manage the process, but is still flexible enough to modify that process to meet your needs. Good partners will listen to your input. Ask questions about what you’re trying to accomplish and help steer you through some of the challenges (they know) you’ll face.

For 2018, my company, Adaptive Analytics (Portsmouth), will continue to source new technologies that enable us to build more customized solutions for our clients. We are constantly reviewing tools that allow us to address changing client needs, while still supporting their existing legacy systems. Technology changes fast. You have to be able to adapt to it for your clients while still delivering insights and results. We strive for that every day.

“One part strategist, one part data scientist, one part marketing technologist.” That’s how someone once described Parnell Woodard. Over his 20-plus years in the marketing and advertising industry he has helped create groundbreaking marketing programs with Fortune 500 companies.