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Why businesses should focus on wide data, not big data

Thor Olavsrud | March 16, 2015
In these heady days of big data, a lot of organizations treat data collection like a Pokémon game: Gotta catch it all. But Dane Atkinson, CEO of cross-platform marketing analytics specialist SumAll says most organizations need to think wide, not big, when it comes to data.

In fact, Atkinson says, focusing on big data rather than wide data can actually make it harder for you to leverage your data. The drive to collect all the data you generate can become a big inhibitor to using it.

"There's a lot of inherent problems in the endless collection of big data," he says. "People build their reservoirs so deep that they're incapable of asking questions about it. Most of our partners have tons of data, but they haven't leveraged it because it's become too big a problem."

CIOs can find themselves in a such a situation because they tend to be technology-oriented, Atkinson says. They want to build a data infrastructure that will allow the business to ask any question it can conceive and get an answer. But this "boil the ocean" approach is ponderous at best, and in the meantime executives like the CMO are going around the CIO to access the tools they need.

"It's the role of the CIO to not only be a technologist, but to be an active driver of using data to improve the business," Atkinson says. "How can we make the data live for our customers?"

"CMOs are facing frustration in getting things done," he adds. "Every other tool now is a technology tool for marketers. The sales architecture of the tech space is now going after CMOs directly because the CIOs are missing it."

The answer, he says, is not to think of big data at all. Instead, think in terms of business problems. Start with the narrowest problem set you can think of and determine how you can leverage data to make things better. Then iterate.

"What is one simple question that we can be really response to," he asks. "Knowing when a customer is going to churn? Build an infrastructure for that. Build a pipeline for the data and plan the data flow through your organization. Condition your organization to do that again and again."


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