Big data: What are 80% of analysts missing, and why?

How can individuals and businesses use big data from the major societal changes in the world today? That was the question that Dominique Turcq posed to me and other alumni of EDHEC, one of the five hyperselective Grandes Écoles whose alumni dominate French business, at a reunion on June 7th.

In the classical ‘big picture’ approach of French managers, Turcq outlined the substantial decoupling of the world economy, in which the countries of the south are able to leapfrog over the development pathways of the north. As the developing world grows, we’ll see a wave of acquisitions as Chinese and Indian business owners look to invest abroad. As that happens, multinationals will be come less global and more multipolar.

Numerous changes flow from that: CSR needs to shift from window-dressing to a more systematic and trustworthy way of working. For example with Accenture, it’s been able to extend corporate benefits to the families of employees in India and, as a result, produce retention rates there higher than in France or some other Western markets. By comparing initiative across countries, businesses are able to spread best practise and import innovation from emerging markets, where experimentation is less risky and faster to test.

This approach towards big data roots the real business value of big data in innovation. In a recent study we made into recent analyst research, we found that 82 reports (out of a total of 422) spoke about innovation. Most analyst research about big data is still focussed on technology pathways and integration, looking at storage, AI and analytics, without talking specifically about innovation.

There’s a lot of research about the technology platforms for big data, but very little about how to apply big data in the key vertical markets or business roles (healthcare and public sector analysts see to be a very notable exception).

Of course the research is only public, written tip of the iceberg. Perhaps conversations with clients are very different… but it seems unlikely. As far as we can see, most analysts are describing the features and platforms available for data mining, rather than advocating what the benefits are and how to realise them.

This situation is, in microcosm, indicative of some major trends in the fields of technology and market analysis. Innovation is being driven by users rather than by experts. If we look at the impact of Bring Your Own Device, it’s perhaps fair to say that IT users have driven more innovation over the last ten years than IT departments have. Echoing their clients in the IT departments, analysts are less often the innovators than they were. While their influence on purchasing is increasing (indeed, almost everyone’s influence is increasing as people consume more information) most analysts are producing research which is more consistent and predictable, and is thus less likely to inspire change. Much of this is expanded in my post on the right-brained analyst.

Of course there’s a minority of analysts, producing that 20% of research which is focussing on the innovation benefits of big data. Their approach is likely to build the motivation to change and build up the appetite to confront the risks of change. The other 80% fails to have the same impact.

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