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We have been developing a new competitive intelligence process for a client. The B2B company wants to better collect, analyze, and disseminate valuable insights on competitive strategy.

As with many competitive intelligence systems, especially in B2B settings, much of the most timely and otherwise unavailable intelligence will come from the salesforce. Similarly, the salesforce is in one of the best positions to take advantage of competitive intelligence to better position products, value propositions, and offers to customers to stymie competitive strategy.

It is vital, however, to ensure the competitive intelligence process is not simply asking for competitive intelligence from salespeople, and then giving it back to them without adding sufficient value.

6 Ways to Enhance Competitive Intelligence from the Salesforce

Heard-On-The-Street

To combat this possibility, here are six enhancements to competitive intelligence that originates with the salesforce to deliver new value:

  1. Aggregate information from multiple people to provide a view no one individual has in order to see patterns or spot trends.
  2. Perform additional and deeper analysis on the raw information to create new understanding.
  3. Communicate information to senior leadership that salespeople feel intently, but that is typically lost in the corporate shuffle (i.e., a regional or niche competitor who is not big enough to get corporate-wide attention).
  4. Disprove or verify early rumors salespeople have reported to address the word on the street.
  5. Exploit the availability of non-sales sources to enhance the raw intelligence and deliver new information to them.
  6. Make if more efficient for sales to gather and especially share competitive intelligence with a process that funnels competitive intelligence to them when they need it.

Is a more robust competitive strategy in your plans?

If your organization needs to boost the value of competitive intelligence from your salesforce, give us a call or email. We’d love to talk to you about how we apply our Brainzooming techniques to efficiently gathering information from broad sources and turning it into actionable competitive intelligence. – Mike Brown

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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looking-for-answersThe easy answer to finding an answer for a question you have is “Googling it.”

While Googling is a ubiquitous way to find and process possible answers from global sources on the web, there’s more to getting solid answers you can confidently use.

Getting to solid answers that are either exactly or directionally accurate requires applying several strategic thinking skills involved beyond just Googling your question and grabbing a fast answer.

6 Search Tips beyond Googling Your Question

To improve not only your online search results, but the real results from answering your question, develop and use these six strategic thinking skills:

1. Imagine your search results before you start Googling

Before you start Googling, develop a sense of what types of answers you might find or at least the forms your answers may take. With this backdrop, you’re in a much better position to quickly evaluate whether you are on the right path with your search results.

2. Push outside your social network for answers

Increasingly, results served up to you online represent a small circle of what Google or other platforms think / believe / know will be most valuable to you. I’m too skeptical to depend exclusively on an algorithm to shape my search. Log out of Google and other applications as best you can to search a wider range of possibilities outside your social network.

3. Don’t read too extensively as you search

Grab as much information as you can as fast as you can without reading everything. Particularly if the answer is important, don’t settle for what might seem like the exact answer right away. Even if it appears you have a solid answer, do more looking to confirm or refute your apparently quick solution.

4. Compare possible answers to your initial expectations

As you begin scanning the initial search results, compare them to what you initially expected as an answer. This is vital since so much of the information you’ll get by Googling your question has never been properly vetted and fact checked. These days, fact checking sits squarely on the searcher’s shoulders. Be skeptical but also be open to having your initial perceptions of what you’ll find challenged or overturned.

5. Look for important disagreements in data

If every source is reporting the same thing, chances are it all came from a single source. When you don’t find a healthy amount of disagreement or variation from multiple information sources, you have a problem. To get a sense of being on the right path toward an answer to your question, go digging for greater information diversity.

6. Keep a running list of insights

As you review search results, jot down initial impressions, major points of agreement or disagreement, supporting points for your answer, ideas from your review, and clues to other places or resources to search. This list is your summarized recap of what your search yielded.

Strategic Thinking Skills Deliver the Best Answers

These six strategic thinking skills will serve you well so you do not just seize the first, and potentially wrong, answers from Googling your question blindly. Mike Brown

 

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Question-MarksAs a market researcher, conducting new market research is typically NOT my first recommendation for answering a question.

There are multiple reasons for my reluctance to push the new market research button.

Chief among them is market research often asks respondents to speculate about what they might do relative to a product concept that may or may not exist, with a description that may or may not represent the concept accurately or in a way the respondent would actually perceive it.

Said simply, a helluva lot of market research is so speculative you can’t use it nearly as definitively as you might like.

7 Things to Pursue Before Conducting New Market Research

Instead of jumping right to market research as the first option to get a sense of what your customers want or think, seek out:

  1. Research reports and business articles from external sources related to your area of interest
  2. Internal data that contains at least some of the component pieces for the answers you’re seeking
  3. Data based on actual customer behaviors in comparable situations
  4. Experts (internal or external) with working hypotheses or models related to the topic under study
  5. Previously conducted research that demonstrates methodological lessons you need to understand
  6. Stronger reference points for the concept you want to test based on actual or virtual prototypes
  7. Logic, strategy, and experience-based scenarios to frame the potential answers you should expect through primary research

This is just a starting point.

Pursuing the right strategic thinking before conducting new market research will get you better inputs and greater efficiency for your market research investment. – Mike Brown

 

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The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I avoid politics here on Brainzooming, so this isn’t a political guest post. It’s a customer experience strategy lesson post from customer experience strategy and innovation expert Woody Bendle. Woody weighs in today on how to avoid your own high profile customer experience management issues based on learnings from the roll out of healthcare.gov. Here’s Woody!

 

woody-bendle3 Customer Experience Strategy Lessons in the Healthcare.gov Launch by Woody Bendle

Last month, one of the most highly anticipated recent website launches, www.healthcare.gov became one of the largest customer experience failures ever. Aside from the many technical design and architecture deficiencies, healthcare.gov provides three key Customer Experience Management (CEM) lessons.

  1. Do not underestimate peak demand
  2. Do not go live without stress-testing peak demand
  3. Have backup plans for worst case scenarios

Let’s dive in to these three lessons.

Lesson 1 – Do not underestimate peak demand!

HealthcaredotgovThis is a blinding flash of the obvious, but if you don’t understand your possible peak demand, really bad things can happen.  Like millions of really unhappy people wasting hours staring at a 404 error page, and all sorts of really bad press resulting in plummeting approval ratings.

Within minutes of go-live, healthcare.gov came to a screeching halt.  Why?  One contributing reason was a gross underestimation of how many people might visit the website its first day.

The thing is, figuring out a possible maximum peak demand for the ACA website isn’t hard – there are multiple scenarios for estimating it.

For an upper bound, we could naïvely assume every one of the roughly 240 million people in the US over the age of 18 could possibly visit the site on day one.

Since this is highly unlikely, what would be reasonable? How about the number of people without insurance now required to have insurance?

According to a September news release from the Census Bureau an estimated 48 million people in the US did not have health insurance in 2012 (including 6.6 million children under 18).  That translates to forty-one or forty-two million uninsured US adults legally required to obtain healthcare. It’s possible – although not probable – they could all decide to visit the website day one.

Another consideration is not everyone in the US has Internet access.  The Pew Center reports that 15% of US adults don’t use the internet, leaving approximately 35 million uninsured US adults with internet access who just might visit healthcare.gov on day one.  But, even this isn’t all that likely given America’s second favorite pastime (after baseball) is procrastination.

Cyber Monday, one of the busiest Internet traffic days annually,  provides another estimate of potential peak demand. According to Experian Hitwise, amazon.com had the highest Cyber Monday traffic volume in 2012 with nearly 39 million visits, walmart.com was second with nearly 19 million visits, and bestbuy.com followed with just over 9 million site visits. While it is unlikely the healthcare.gov launch would be met with amazon-type traffic its first day, it is nonetheless remotely possible.

How much demand peak demand should they have planned for with healthcare.gov on day one?  Apparently, way more than they did.

This leads us to our second key Customer Experience lesson.

Lesson 2 – Do not go live without stress-testing peak demand

From the Experian statistics, it is clearly possible to handle millions of site visitors on a single day.  Companies are already designing and supporting websites to handle massive amounts of daily site traffic. That healthcare.gov crashed immediately upon launch strongly indicates the team could not have performed stress testing anywhere near possible peak site demand levels.

The worst part though, according to comScore, is only about 2.5 million people actually visited healthcare.gov on its first day using PCs.  And, since roughly 20% of all Internet traffic comes via mobile devices, potentially only 3 million people in total attempted to visit healthcare.gov its first day.  If each person attempted to visit the site twice, due to technical hiccups, it might have received between 5 to 6 million visits its first day. This certainly is not a big traffic day by modern Internet standards. But, healthcare.gov still crashed – creating millions of frustrated customers and placing a dark cloud of skepticism over the entire ACA program.

This leads me to one final lesson from the launch.

Lesson 3 – Have backup plans for worst-case scenarios

If healthcare.gov were any other other website, hundreds of millions of people globally might not know what a colossal failure its launch was.  It isn’t just any other website; it is perhaps the most highly anticipated, highly visible (not to mention, legally mandated for millions of currently uninsured US adults) website launches in history!

Should you be responsible for such a website, there are two critical questions to ask and reliably answer:

  1. What’s the worst that could happen?
  2. What are we going to do if the worst thing actually happens?

Horrible customer experiences are very difficult to recover from successfully.  The growing widespread knowledge of horrible customer experiences, such as the healthcare.gov launch, makes these situations even more challenging!  I’m certain there are more than a few in Washington who agree right now.  But if you plan for worst-case scenarios, you can proactively attempt to minimize (and possibly even recover from) the damage done due to underestimating and under-testing peak user demand.

The Final Word? Hardly

In the immortal words of Dwight D. Eisenhower: “In preparing for battle [or the launch of the healthcare.gov marketplace] I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Woody Bendle

 

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“How strong is my organization’s social media strategy?”

9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

Is your social media implementation working as well as it can? In less than 60 minutes with the new FREE Brainzooming ebook “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy,” you’ll have a precise answer to this question.

Any executive can make a thorough yet rapid evaluation of nine different dimensions of their social media strategies with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy.”

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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November 10 is the anniversary of the Brainzooming blog’s launch, introducing our strategic thinking manifesto, which originally appeared as the first five Brainzooming blog articles.

The Brainzooming strategic thinking manifesto is the foundation of our business philosophy and how we are creating strategic impact for clients. Yet when it was published at the blog’s launch, there was no other Brainzooming content online to which we could link key concepts.

Now, several years into writing daily articles on strategy, creativity, innovation, and social media, there is ample online content elaborating on the Brainzooming concepts strategic thinking manifesto introduced. To mark this year’s anniversary of the blog and launching The Brainzooming Group, it’s time to re-share the manifesto. This updated version includes supporting links and updates to reflect the learning and growth from The Brainzooming Group client work since our launch.

Creating Strategic Impact – The Updated Brainzooming Manifesto

Dilbert-ThinkerPreparing our original presentation on cultivating strategic thinking, current literature suggested a significant gap between senior management expectations and the impact from strategic thinking. Senior leaders have strong expectations about their employees’ abilities to think strategically and how much time their senior teams should spend on strategic issues. One survey reported senior leaders expected to spend 1/3 of their time on strategic issues. Another survey found though that senior teams self-report spending less than 1 hour per month, if any time at all, on strategic issues.

Why the discrepancy?

We repeatedly see one or more of these reasons present in organizations struggling with strategic impact:

Through meaningfully changing strategic thinking perspectives, it’s possible to address each of these gaps, and involve many individuals throughout an organization into clearly beneficial strategic thinking roles with great results.

Defining Strategic Thinking Simply

One reason strategic thinking doesn’t take place is there isn’t a clear understanding of what strategic thinking is. As a result, ill-fated attempts to be “strategic” fall short, creating a reluctance to broadly address strategy.

The Brainzooming Group starts with a simple definition for strategic thinking: Addressing Things that Matter with Insight & Innovation.

There are three important elements in the definition to  shape productive strategic thinking and invite greater participation and results.

“Things that Matter” – Strategic thinking focuses on fundamental opportunities & issues driving the business, not on far away things irrelevant to creating strategic impact. Successfully focusing on things that matter implies being able to:
  • Understand the Overall Business & Direction – What’s important to the business and its customers – past, present, & future? There are various questions whose answers identify this, but one of the best is, “What are we trying to achieve?” You can always return to this question to re-set a discussion stuck in the weeds.
  • Recognize there are Multiple Strategic Viewpoints - What’s strategic differs on whether your view is company-wide, departmental, functional, or personal. While the strategic views within an organization should be interconnected, what’s strategic will differ between senior management and a specific department. Because of this, it’s vital to clearly identify which view your strategic thinking is addressing.
  • Take “Time” Out of Your Definition of Strategic – Strategic issues can take place this afternoon just as easily as in the future; just because something won’t come to pass for years doesn’t necessarily make it strategic. If you don’t realize this, you’ll never address strategic discussions because pressing issues (which may be hugely strategic) are viewed as tactics requiring immediate solutions – and thinking seems to slow things down, thwarting progress.
  • Use Strategic Thinking Exercises Intended to Creatively Tackle Challenging Issues – Using strategic thinking exercises helps neutralize traditional (potentially biased) perspectives, reducing unproductive politics and blind spots stifling creating strategic impact.

“Insight” – Strategic thinking starts with relevant insights gained from inside and outside the organization. Combining and analyzing diverse information allows you to identify relationships leading to creating strategic impact. You can start by assessing your strategic position in new and different ways through robust strategic thinking exercises.

“Innovation” – One of the best approaches to anticipate future relevant events is considering multiple perspectives and exploring a full range of possibilities that may develop. Simple question-based exercises foster a more innovative look at the business.

Awakening Strategic Thinking

If senior managers are the only ones sanctioned to think strategically in an organization, there is a real problem. A company’s senior team tends to view the world in a relatively homogenous manner – from having shared experiences to holding a common perspective on the company and the market. Shaking up that sameness and familiarity is vital.

Great strategic thinking springs from diverse perspectives, cultivated and managed toward a view of the current & future business environment that increases the likelihood of creating strategic impact. Achieving this means spreading strategic thinking responsibility throughout the business.

Here are some fundamentals for accomplishing this:

Keep track of who is thinking and how they think – In bringing people together for strategic thinking, make sure three vital perspectives are represented with people that have:

  • Solid, front-line business experience (to help frame business issues)
  • Broad functional knowledge (with an understanding of capabilities)
  • Creative energy (acting as catalysts to view things in new & unconventional ways)

Invest time in productive thinking – Create and protect time for strategic thinking. This requires a willingness to invest dedicated time to consider many possibilities, to narrow focus to the best ones, and then develop & implement the best strategies. Focused time helps create an environment where people can selectively turn off conventional wisdom, triggering many more possibilities.

Use structure to increase output and efficiency – In initial phases, brainstorming techniques help productively manage how people with varied perspectives can increase the number of ideas generated very efficiently. Some starting principles include:

New Types of Strategic Thinking Tools

A challenge with standard strategic planning approaches is people are familiar with standard strategic planning questions and answers. Additionally, if people are entering strategic planning with long histories inside an organization, they know the expected answers to standard strategic planning questions.

Aligned with typical areas addressed during strategic planning, here are some of the alternative paths The Brainzooming Group uses to reach vital insights leading to creating strategic impact.

Combo-ExercisesStrengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats

Vital Trends and Innovative Directions

Setting Priorities

Creating Strategic Impact

Strategic thinking often falls short because specific outcomes are difficult to trace to original strategic thinking or planning effort.

Beyond approaches covered previously to focus strategic thinking, broaden participation, and increase its rigor, a several principles can help create more tangible outcomes.

Creating-a-Strategic-ImpactBe prepared with a rigorous prioritization approach – Frequently, 5 to 15% of the possibilities from a strategic thinking session have near-term development potential or strong relevance. A great first pass prioritization approach is to approximate the number of ideas your team has generated and divide it by 5 to arrive at 20% of the ideas. Divide this total by the number of participants; the result represents how many ideas each person will be able to select based on their belief in an idea’s strength and/or potential.

Let participants start narrowing – With their individual idea “allowances” set, participants can begin selecting ideas that they’ll take through the prioritization process. Ideas chosen can be their own or those of others. The important thing is that participants believe in the ideas they select.

After each team member selects ideas, have them make an initial assessment of each idea using the following questions – What are the idea’s strengths? What are the idea’s weaknesses? What’s unexpected or unusual about the idea relative to the status quo? What’s your initial recommendation about how the idea could be addressed? It’s beneficial to share these initial thoughts aloud to familiarize group members with previously overlooked ideas.

Perform individual ranking with group input – Following the initial report-out, use a 4-box grid to allow individuals to place their ideas relative to two dimensions:

  • Potential Impact – On a scale from Minimal to Dramatic
  • Implementation Ease – On a scale from Easy to Difficult

Brainstorming-Session-Contribute-to-SuccessOnce individuals have placed ideas on the grid, talk through each one to see what support or challenges exist within the group. Typically, team members will overstate the number of easy to implement ideas expected to have dramatic impact. If true, these ideas are very attractive, but often they’ll have less impact or may be more difficult to implement than originally suspected.

Don’t be afraid to consider moving an idea if there’s a clear view from the group that it’s stronger or weaker than its original placement. The result of this combined individual-group exercise should be a much more refined set of ideas, with a good deal of input to set the stage for selecting a few ideas that will be pursued further for development.

Keep track of what’s left over – It pays to track ideas that aren’t selected initially. These often resurface later and it’s nice to be able to tie them back to the strategic thinking efforts that you’ve been conducting.

From Strategic Thinking to Creating Strategic Impact

Ideally you are better prepared to cultivate strategic thinking as a precursor to creating strategic impact in your department or business. Subscribe to the Brainzooming blog, seek ongoing learning, and schedule time soon for fruitful strategic thinking! And if you need ehlp to start or deliver results, let us know. We’d love to help you in creating strategic impact. – Mike Brown

 

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The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Customer experience and innovation expert Woody Bendle  is here on the Brainzooming blog to share a great approach for recycling the customer feedback program data that’s sitting in organizations with incredible innovation potential . . . for those who are savvy enough to take advantage of it. Here’s Woody!

Recycling Customer Feedback Program Data for Innovation by Woody Bendle

Recycling Customer Feedback DataDoes your organization have a Customer Experience Management (CEM) program?  Are you currently measuring and monitoring Customer Satisfaction (CSat)? Do you have a customer support center receiving and responding to customer feedback through phone calls, emails and letters?  Do you have a Facebook fan page where customer feedback comes via posts about themselves and your company?  Do you have customers talking about you on Twitter or on blogs?

If you said yes to any of these customer feedback scenarios, you’re probably already holding the keys to your company’s next innovation opportunity!

Intrigued?

Many of you have likely made substantial investments in obtaining, monitoring and leveraging customer feedback through CEM, CRM or CSat programs.  Each customer feedback program can create tremendous value for your organization by providing timely and actionable consumer insights related to your customers’ interactions with your associates and brand.

But what you might not realize is that this exact same customer feedback data can be leveraged for innovation.

Innovation is the process of creating new (and differentiated) customer value in the marketplace, which can create a sustainable competitive advantage.  This process has three phases (Identify, Innovate, and Implement) and each phase has three steps:

The most critical step in the innovation process is identifying unmet or under-served consumer needs.  Unfortunately however, this is where so many innovation efforts go awry – that is, right at the very beginning!  And let me tell you, when you screw up the beginning, it’s pretty much all down hill from there.

Do you realize that 80%+ of all new products launched each year fail?  This is beyond absurd; it is down right irresponsible and completely unnecessary!  The reason for this massive failure rate is because organizations either don’t understand the importance of addressing unmet consumer needs or they simply don’t care to take the time to identify their customers’ unmet or underserved needs.   And this where your existing CEM, CRM and C-Sat customer feedback program comes into play.

It’s all about customer needs!

Let’s face it – the only reason your customers interact with your organization is because you satisfy one or more of their needs in some capacity.  By interacting with you, your customers are able to get through their day a little better than if they hadn’t (or at least that’s how you ought to be thinking about it).  And, when they reach out to your organization (either directly through you customer support center or your CSat program), they’re likely doing so because you have either exceeded, or have fallen short of satisfying one or more of their needs.  And while nobody likes to hear about how they’ve frustrated or disappointed customers, it is precisely in those circumstances that you need to pay closer attention because:

  1. They wouldn’t be sharing their opinions with you if they didn’t have a need that they were hoping you could or would satisfy (or satisfy better)
  2. They wouldn’t bother telling you what they thought if it were easy to get that need satisfied elsewhere, and
  3. They wouldn’t waste their time taking a survey or sending you an email if they didn’t care about the relationship they have with your organization.

It’s for all of these reasons that you should view your customer feedback system and data as a valuable innovation asset!

So while many of you are sitting on this incredible innovation asset, I’m guessing few of you have spent much time thinking about how to mine it for product, service and/or process innovation opportunities.  The good news is that you already have a ton of hugely valuable customer feedback data; and getting this data in the first place is the hardest and most expensive part!  With just a little additional effort, and perhaps some additional technology, you will find you are much closer to your next innovation opportunity than you realize.

In order to begin recycling customer feedback program data for innovation opportunities, you’ll want to employ a process where you:

8 Telltale Customer Feedback Phrases Identifying Unmet Customer Needs

To help kick-start your efforts, here are eight telltale phrases you will commonly encounter when customers are telling you how your organization is not adequately meeting their needs:

  1. Why is it that…?
  2. This is ridiculous…
  3. I don’t understand why…
  4. You would think that…
  5. How come every time I…?
  6. How am I supposed to…?
  7. I wish that…
  8. It’d be nice if…

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of phrases you’ll encounter once you begin mining and recycling customer feedback data for innovation opportunities, I’m betting you’ll be surprised by how often you actually encounter each of these phrases once you start digging in!  And hopefully, I’ve encouraged you to begin digging!

So what are you waiting for?  Let’s get innovating! Woody Bendle

 

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

 

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Customer experience and innovation expert Woody Bendle  is back today with his big, big, big, big strategic insights on big data analytics. Here’s Woody!

Strategic Insights – Much Ado about Big Data Analytics by Woody Bendle

Big Data is HOT!

Look at this Google Trends search on “Big Data” from this past Saturday (August 08, 2013).  You don’t have to be a statistician or a Nobel Prize winning macro economist to see Big Data has been on an AMAZING upward trajectory since 2011!

Big-Data-Trend

 

There is no denying Big Data is in vogue right now. Some might even say it’s pretty darned sexy!  But, as someone whose been tackling ‘Big Data’ for more than 20 years, I have to ask, “What the heck’s the big deal?”  We’re just talking about data – albeit, more of it.

Look, Big is relative; and as long as you know what you’re doing, data size should not be an issue given the current state and price of computing technologies today.  This leads me to think there is something more to all of this ‘Big Data’ chatter than simply terabytes.

Perhaps all of the hoo-hah surrounding Big Data analytics has to do with the different types of data out there.

Big Data encapsulates A LOT of different data types ranging from good (accurate and reliable) to bad (wrong and inconsistent).  Big Data can also be structured (numbers, etc.) or unstructured (a video posted on YouTube with someone railing on your company).  Also, some Big Data reflect location (latitude and longitude or a check-in on FourSquare) as well as things happening over time.  WHEW!

And for good measure, I even have my own classification for the different types of data (Big or not) I regularly encounter – these are Woody’s data ABCs.

  1. Attitudinal – what people are thinking, feeling and saying (or trying to say)
  2. Behavioral – what people are doing, where, when, and how often
  3. Crap – no explanation needed here

So sure, I’ll admit it, Big Data can be pretty complicated and complex. But this is what data analysis has always been about – for years. This leads me to think there is still something more to this whole Big Data thing than just data size and data complexity.

This is something I’ve been thinking more about lately, and I tend to believe the big deal has to do with the confluence of a number of technological trends that surprisingly snuck up on a lot of people, as well as the fundamental laws of demand and supply.

Our New Hyper-Digital Era

On the technology side, we now live a new hyper-digital era where due to advancements in computing capacity and speed, data capture and storage in conjunction with rapidly decreasing costs, virtually every move we make throughout every living moment of our lives is registered digitally.  Billions of people all doing hundreds (or thousands) of different things every day – all captured and memorialized in some digital form in the cloud.

In addition, the Internet revolution has enabled all sorts of technological, consumer , and social innovations which now allow people to create and share more data in one day than many companies used to generate in a pre-digital era year!

Think about all of the data each of us create every day through emails, text messages, Facebook pages, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Yelp, WordPress, Blogger, etc.  And, not to mention the continual digital wake we leave behind with the GPS transmitters in our smartphones and cars.  All of these things individually and in combination generate more data than most of us can fathom – and certainly way more data than most in the business world are prepared to use.  And by use, I mean actually utilize in such a manner as to create new value for consumers, society, and businesses.

So, technological innovation is enabling the creation and storage of exponentially growing mountains of Big Data.  But this wouldn’t be happening if there weren’t market forces driving it.  That is, demand for Big Data led to the supply of it!

It always seems to come back to economics doesn’t it . . .

On the demand and supply side of things, we’re dealing with at least two different phenomena.  And this is where I think the real Big Data frenzy is stemming from.  The first is a case of being careful about what you wish for (because you just might eventually get it!); and the second is gross deficiency in the supply of analytical talent in the US.

You Asked for It

In terms of being careful about what you wish for, my sense is a lot of the Big Data issues many are living today probably involves a narrative similar to this:

1)     For years, the lack of data (or the costs associated with obtaining data) has been used as an excuse for not knowing (or being able to answer) something – if we only had more data

2)     Many, for whatever reason, erroneously believed that simply having more data would mean better and more valuable (insightful) data  –  these are probably the same people who believe you need to remove all of their blood in order to have a reliable blood test

3)     Over the past 15-20 years it has become amazingly cheap and easy to create and house A LOT of data.  As a result, there are now massive mountains of Big Data “out there” all over the place  – making the people using the old “if we only had more data” excuse pretty nervous

4)     Many (bosses, shareholders, government leaders, etc.) naïvely believe since Big Data is now relatively easy to capture and house, it also should be relatively easy and inexpensive to analyze  –  these are people who think Microsoft Excel is all anyone could ever possibly need to analyze anything – they also happen to be the same people who slept through their business calc and business stats courses and don’t know the difference between a T-Test and a T-Square (hint – one is used in carpentry)

5)     Very few people (in decision making capacities) have actually spent much any time thinking about the types of questions they want to be able to answer with Big Datalet alone how someone would actually go about answering them

6)     Even fewer people have spent much time thinking about how all of this Big Data should actually be configured.  That is, how it should be structured in order for it to be analyzed; thus enabling it to help answer all of these yet-to-be-defined business questions

7)     Many leaders are now nervously sitting on tons of Big Data and have come to the realization that they don’t have the right tools and/or the right talent within their organization to leverage their unwieldy Big Data asset

8)     Meanwhile senior leadership, boards and shareholders continue to wonder when all of the Big Data magic is going to begin! – I mean come on all ready would you! You’ve got all of this data that you’d been asking for; so do something with it already – and make us tons of money!  NOW!

In Search of Big Data Ninjas

This leads me to the second, and more problematic demand and supply issue surrounding Big Data – There simply aren’t enough well-trained Big Data analysts in the US labor market do anything of any value with all of this Big Data!

According to the US Department of Education, only about 10% of the 1.6MM undergraduate degrees conferred in the 2009-2010 academic year were in areas such as Computer Sciences, Engineering, Math and Statistics, and the Physical Sciences & Technologies.

Tech-Undergrads

 

These are the types of degrees Big Data analysts will have; and unfortunately for organizations needing to hire Big Data analysts, this is down significantly from nearly 13.5% of all degrees awarded in the 1980-1981 academic year.  If you are on the demand side of this Big Data equation, this is not the sort of trend you want to see in the face of the surging Big Data Tidal Wave! (Affiliate Link)

While I’m spreading all sorts of sunshine on our Big Data parade, here’s something else to keep in mind.  Only a small fraction of those who have graduated with analytic or technical degrees in the past twenty or so years are actually in the Big Data analysis business, and very few of today’s technically-oriented undergrads are aspiring Big Data ninjas.  The bottom line is an interesting reality where we are dealing with the rapid growth in demand for competent Big Data analysts in the face of a woefully insufficient supply.  I suspect it will take a good number of years before natural market forces arrive at equilibrium – that is, when the supply of Big Data slayers will equal market demand.

The Path Forward

There is absolutely no doubt that Big Data is finally here, and that it is truly here to stay.  There is also no denying that there are a lot of Big Data challenges that need to be better understood and dealt with.  However, if we make the proper investments in Planning, Preparing and Organizing  for Big Data, we can begin to realize the value that is promises.  I, by no means intend to trivialize or undersell the time, effort, and resources that will be required along the way.  This will be a big effort – after all, we are talking about Big Data. However this dilemma is a bit like the question about when is the best time to plant a tree. The best answer of course is yesterday and the second best answer is today.  Regardless of your current Big Data state, better Planning, Preparation and Organization today will ensure a better Big Data tomorrow.

So what do you think?  Are we really in the midst of a Big Data dilemma?  Or, is all of this Big Data stuff much ado about nothing?

And hey – on the bright side of things, if you happen to be a budding Big Data ninja…  Your future’s so bright, you’d better get shades (cue up Timbuk3)Woody Bendle

 

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