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Big data…start small, think big, act fast


Like many people I’m excited and inspired by the possibilities the enormous amount of data we now have opens up. But, unlike others, what I’m excited about isn’t its capacity to answer big questions. I’m excited about its ability to have a big impact by helping organisations overcome small challenges. And about the way that idea catches on. It’s like lighting a touch paper.

I’m less interested in how historical data might help us predict the future and more interested in how connecting different sets of real-time information can improve decision-making. How stitching together data within organisations and combining that with facts and figures from outside can bring truly valuable insight. How knowing exactly what’s happening right now can help you decide what you do next, not in the next five years. That could be to pre-empt or prevent something – a cohort of customers changing their minds, say – which could mean the difference between a profit and a loss.


Data in the digital age

To unlock the value of data, businesses must radically
re-think how they operate.

Find out more

It’s contagious 
Our work with a multinational human resource consulting firm resulted in a 20% uplift in their sales conversion rate in one of their key geographies We combined their experience of the way organisations behave, with external data readily available from the Chamber of Commerce, to create an app the sales team could use to help them decide who to call next. Other people in the company were so impressed with the insights the new ‘Sales Navigator’ app generated, we’re now working with them to create additional apps for global roll-out. The desire to harness the power of data is contagious.

The question you want to answer needs to be quite specific. That way you can figure out what data would help and whether it already exists in the public domain – free or not. We paid just €2,000 for a list we needed to create an ‘early warning system’ for a pension fund. They wanted a heads-up if concerns emerged around the environmental, social and corporate governance of companies they’d invested in.   

Of course this new world throws up privacy issues. And there’s a tendency for people to opt for the safest answer – no – for fear of contravening data protection regulation. But there are just two principles to bear in mind. You need to tell people how you might use their data and you need to give them a chance to opt out. I, for one, would be happy for banks to use my details so they can give me better advice, for example. Or for health organisations to share my information so I don’t have to keep explaining the same things. I think many people feel the same.

It’s not too dangerous 
And it’s a mistake to let such a valuable asset go to waste. The potential for making incremental changes to the way you work and have a lasting impact on revenue is real. We love a challenge, so we like to start with an insight that will
 create a 5x ROI. That’s worked for many clients already. Like them, I’m excited about what we can do next. 

PA is delighted to support the Rotterdam School of Management's Executive Education programme, Leadership Challenges with Big Data. You can find out more here.

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