Stop Looking at Big Data as the Problem (Start Looking at Integration)

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Big Data is the phrase that won’t die. It made sense when we first tried to wrap our heads around the idea that we could have more data than we previously imagined. Yes, it was a good way to describe, in a short phrase, the concept of having more data than our systems could manage. It was even a good way to say that the signal to noise ratio of digital information was uncomfortably poor. But most of all, it was a clever way to sell software to a public that knew there was a problem brewing, but didn’t know what to do about it.

But this is 2015. Things change. We move on. Let’s stop looking through the keyhole and start talking about what’s really in the room. It’s time to put the focus where it needs to be: on the challenges of becoming a digital business.

The Challenge Is Digital Business

Where Big Data put focus on the problems of gathering, storing, processing, and making use of a wide variety of data, it was never really about the data. Not really. Business has always been and always will be about the ability to use information, digital or otherwise, in the best way possible to make smart decisions. Those decisions, in turn, solve the real problems, create new opportunities, and avoid risks. Decisions, both automated and manual, lead to actions that underlie the cadence of conducting business. Digital business is a much more appropriate phrase and describes the gradual turn from paper, manual, hunch, and guess to using ubiquitous data to conduct business in constantly better ways.

Digital business, unlike Big Data, is the goal and not a description of the problem. This is where the real change is happening and where transformation, competition, and disruption is taking place. Netflix is a great, early example of a move to digital business, but there will be many to follow as traditional industries change or die and new business models are invented.

The Components of Digital Business

The common components of digital business are very familiar by now: Internet of Things, mobility, marketing automation, cloud, even 3D printing, and sitting between all of it, integration. Of that list, the one that isn’t new and maybe gets overlooked is integration. It’s one thing to have technology and techniques for doing business digitally, but it’s quite another to get everything to hang together in a way that is efficient, effective and gets everything where it needs to be in the right moments. Integration will be the challenging move in making digital business succeed.

Making integration a particular challenge is the fact that most businesses weren’t integrated before the arrival of Big Data, mobility, and cloud. Most enterprises are still stuck in a world of spaghetti infrastructure that has significant cost in simply maintaining the status quo. This reality will create real pain as the world struggles to be a digital business. The haves and have nots of the digital era will be divided along the lines of those who have the integrated infrastructure to handle new technology and information and those who won’t.