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Executive Education

Big data - time to take action!

While most leaders agree on the importance of the big data phenomenon, in practical terms few know how to take advantage of it. More than just being a technological trend, data analysis tools can solve problems and generate real opportunities - provided that a coherent big data strategy is developed beforehand.



What are the right questions to ask before embarking on the big data adventure?


  • Technology - is your company familiar with data analysis? Do you already know how to manage smaller datasets and integrate them into your decision-making processes?
  • Culture - does your company encourage experimentation, and are you prepared to accept mistakes? Are you willing to stop measuring your efforts in terms of ROI (over a period of time)?
  • Resources - do you have a budget and / or human resources to invest in new technologies for collecting data?



Determine the scope to ensure that the data has meaning.


  • Innovation - data analysis helps new ideas to surface by revealing the links between variables that were previously isolated. Apple, for instance, crosschecks thousands of kilobytes of data collected daily on articles sold in its stores so that it can design its future products.
  • Operations - big data can enhance numerous processes within companies. General Electric uses data from sensors embedded in its products (jet engines, medical equipment, and so on) to optimize the frequency of industrial maintenance.
  • Customer experience - the information provided by big data can be used to enhance your existing products or services. In the distribution sector, for example, analyzing the videos taken in outlets can maximize the customer experience – and boost turnover.



To prime the big data pump, you can choose between push and pull approaches. The former starts with a problem and consists of acquiring the data to solve it. The challenge is to focus on a clear goal (cost reduction, improvements to the supply chain, developing new services, and so on) before deciding what data to collect and drawing up an action plan.

The second approach, by contrast, involves using data that is already available and devising innovative ways to harness it. Executives at UPS realized that they could optimize the routes taken by the company’s delivery trucks by exploiting their GPS data. Drivers in the US subsequently reduced their journeys by 136 million kilometers in 2011, saving more than 30 million liters of gasoline in the process.


Sources: FRANÇOIS CAZALS and Big Data at Work: Dispelling the Myths, Uncovering the Opportunities by Thomas H. Davenport (Harvard Business Review Press, February 2014)