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A simple explanation of business intelligence and big data

Big Data by JD HancockYou grow through experience and learning. Your skills and wisdom are accrued through action and feedback loops. Education and learning & development programmes significantly supplement experience, but it is mainly embedded as usable knowledge through application. Most of the ways in which you think and act are based on your knowledge and skills.

Your brain and external brains – embedded in books and searchable repositories using technology like Google, Evernote and Wikis – are the sources and store houses of your knowledge. They are called on for you to think and act.

Take this process up to the level of human progress, and we’ve passed on information – comprising knowledge and skills – generation to generation. We started with the vehicles of story and song before progressing to writing and recording via the various media which today chronicle the sum of human skills and knowledge.

Businesses should be no different. Corporations are just companies of people gathered together for the pursuit of common goals. Knowledge and skills are utilized for success in the markets that the corporation operates in. Therefore the vehicles to pass on this knowledge and these skills should be well built and constantly developing shouldn’t they?

Unfortunately this is not always the case. What your business knows is often fragmented and poorly managed; a sum of some of the following parts:

  • the knowledge of present employees
  • policies and quality requirements
  • processes and operating manuals
  • wikis and training information
  • the knowledge and skills embedded in the products and services themselves

This is bad, but things get a lot worse when we consider the information which has yet to become knowledge. The raw data before the insight. The evidence, perceptions and perspectives from the far corners of your business yet to be aggregated, synthesised and distilled into anything actionable in thought or in deed.

Before the creation of business intelligence is data, and with the explosion of data points driven by technology – and particularly online technology, ‘big data’ is an appropriate description for the challenge and opportunity we face as business leaders.

Gartner in 2012 describe it in this way: “Big data are high volume, high velocity and /or high variety information assets that require new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision-making, insight discovery and process optimisation.”

The importance of gaining insight from big data in order to develop business intelligence that can be turned into competitive advantage is clear. So what do you need to do?

  1. Activate your business mind. This isn’t necessarily about huge investment in knowledge management systems. Start easily with simple information capturing via easily accessible technologies like intranets, Google Sites, Salesforce Chat and Basecamp. Just get people used to sharing knowledge and insight.
  2. Brainstorm your information architecture. First, map out where knowledge and wisdom is created in your business. Second, give autonomy to the creators of this knowledge and wisdom with the task of sharing with those they consider need to know it.
  3. Create your architecture board. Now that your business has started to think in the right way about business intelligence and data, step in and create a board of architects from front line customer and client facing team members, IT, any business analysis functions and the most enthusiastic participants in the ‘activate your business mind’ stage. This board should not be selected based on seniority but should be given clear authority to propose to the senior leadership how business intelligence and big data analysis and insight activity should be structured in your business.
  4. Invest in questions before answers. Lots of businesses recognize the need to take advantage of the data that they can access and put big money in data capture, data warehouses and data analysts. They then think about the questions they want answered. It even worse, they just wait for ‘insights’ without asking questions. If you invest in questions before answers then you’re in a far better position to create a specification for your data requirements longer term. As in most things in life, starting small is good.
  5. Identify and give authority to your Hubs and Superconnectors. Borrowing from network language, recognize that the sharing of information through your organization is a network issue. To convert information into intelligence, the right people need to receive it and work with the right people on it. Start by identifying all your organisational Hubs. Hubs are individuals within the organization that are specialist connectors within their field. They will normally be the people within a function or division that people refer to that can answer questions no-one else. Then identify your Superconnectors. Superconnectors are the opposite of Hubs in that they are not specialist connectors within any field. However, more powerfully, they are the ties that connect the Hubs together. They know how specialities fit together, their points of interface and weakness and who should talk to whom to get things done across the business, rather than just in specialist areas. Your Hubs and Superconnectors should effectively be your oversight board to your architecture board and any functional business intelligence of big data specialisms. They know whether the questions are worth answering, why they can’t currently be answered, what would be needed to answer them and then how the eventual insights can be used.
  6. Always anchor in Context and Action. Amazingly useless insights can be created by brilliant minds floating off into intellectual no-man’s land. Every single business intelligence and big data insight project activity has to run through the two stage check questions of: 1. What is the context of the data that makes it valuable? and 2. What can you action?. If we cannot understand the context in which the data exists, we cannot really assign its value and therefore it becomes meaningless for our purposes of knowing what to action amongst competing priorities. Make context and action parts of your briefing, specification and success criteria. Do not allow anything to go ahead without it.

Start with these steps above to ensure your insights, knowledge and skills are utilized for success in the markets that your business operates in. Invest well in vehicles to pass on this knowledge and ensure your big data and business intelligence skills are well built and constantly developing to ensure your evolution as a business.

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About Si Conroy

Family man, founder/CEO, investor & CrossFitting ultra runner. Businesses apply cognitive science to goal setting & goal achievement for leaders. Love life.

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