Live From Management World: Big Questions Around Big Data
By Jessica Zimet
Big data was a big topic this year at Management World Americas, playing into keynote discussions around digital services, and featuring a track of its own. Rob Rich presented learnings from a TM Forum report on how providers use big data, defining the term as “a data-first view of the world," one that “allows you to make decisions based on analytics rather than instinct alone." Basically, it’s the ability to go through the enormous amount of collected data, and quickly pull useful, actionable information to inform decisions from everything from network management to customer care. But the communications industry is quite there yet. Though communications service providers excel at collecting data (the “if it’s there, store it" mentality), they rate themselves as “only average" at extracting value. As Amdocs’ Shai Shamir pointed out, it’s not how about how much data you collect; you have to ask the right questions.
Integrating data from multiple sources was cited as a key challenge by all (Comcast, Sprint, TM Forum’s report) – as well as the reverse, sharing collected data for people across the organization to query for their division’s needs. Other challenges included the sheer volume of data to deal with [that’s why they call it big data], solution costs, and even the skill sets and knowledge sharing of those working on the data. Von McConnell of Sprint said they have more than enough data analysis systems; that’s not the main issue. The audience chuckled in recognition as he pointed out the “people challenge" – if three people know how to handle big data in your organization, they might not see it in their best personal interest to share exactly how they do it – “job security!" Like other attendees, Sprint sees the potential value – opportunities in everything from improving the consumer experience to selling mass intelligence to advertisers, while still protecting individual privacy, another big data issue.
Dave Birch of Consult Hyperion tweeted, “Privacy isn't the elephant in this room, it's the herd of elephants trampling all over big data." He and others pointed out that smarter usage of user data can often circumvent issues, protect the customer, and improve their experience – for example, being able to confirm the customer as “over 18" without providing exact birthdate information.
Comcast gave a case study about how they use big data to inform technical operations by starting small with a few targeted goals, and expanding it slowly across the organization, until everyone from supervisors to the CEO are using it. “Don’t try to boil the ocean," was the refrain sung in every big-data session – choose small, achievable projects that work and deliver value, and build from there. Eventually, everyone will want their finger in the big data pie.