The promise — and the challenge — of big data can be summed up in one question: “What could you do if you knew?”

The question covers the key insights you and your executives would like to have, and how you could use those insights to improve your business. Your heads of sales, marketing, product development and supply chain will likely have different answers.  Let’s help them articulate what they could do if they knew.

What Could You Do If You Knew?

Just like at work, we face thousands of decisions in real-time while driving our cars. Highway, or backroads? Drive the speed limit, or risk a ticket? How can I get the best gas mileage? There’s an overabundance of information, feedback and data to contend with as we cruise down the road. Which way do we need to look? The four most critical sources of data to a driver are likely the rear-view mirror, windshield, the dashboard, and the GPS.

Businesses face similar challenges, such as innovation, change, and speed, in order to establish a competitive advantage while managing risk. As with a vehicle, speed often dictates our options. As Kaan Turnali explains in his blog post:

When the opportunity to enter a new market or adjust a marketing campaign presents itself, the need for insight grows exponentially. We consider our options to react while the clock is ticking. As questions are formulated both about the past and future, historical data provides only a starting point for decisions that will eventually impact our company’s future direction.

To get you started, consider the following vehicle analogies relative to your business. Ask yourself and your executives these questions about your business. Look for the gaps in “What Could You Do If You Knew?”

Rear-View Mirror: Where have we been? What historical information would empower us right now?  Customer behavior, product or component performance, events tracked against global historical trends — all of these can be useful.

Windshield: Where are we now? More specifically, how can we enable a large, clean, unobstructed view of our business information?  It’s important to eliminate blind spots and distorted views. Can we see across our customer, product and supplier ecosystem? Do we have a clear at-a-glance view of what’s going on right now?  Is there anything we can’t see that we need to be able to see?

GPS: Where are we going? Assuming we did a good job on the first two, let’s apply a little more technology. If we have a good history of customer behavior and a clear view of what’s going on in our world right now, then a little prediction goes a long way. Marketing might redirect campaign spend; production might shift build or ship schedules. Our teammates in sales, finance and supply chain do this — forecasting, budgeting, material planning, etc. — all the time. The better our crystal ball, the better decisions we can make.

Dashboard: Dashboards are essentially graphically enabled views of what’s going on, right now. Like an automotive dashboard, these are enabled with colors and highlights to draw attention to key items or outliers.  This is a great delivery mechanism for tablet- or phone-based mobile displays. A key target here is commonality; business dashboards, like automotive dashboards, should be equally informative to any user.

Start with these questions aimed at your business needs. In future posts, we’ll dive deeper into how your peers in a variety of industries are using these questions in order to make big data a tool for business growth.

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