Asking Smart Big Data Questions

The most important Big Data step businesses and corporations can take is to take stock of their existing databases, content repositories, file systems, collaboration tools and start asking questions. Good questions lead to discovery efforts that either produce answers (ideally insights), or provide intelligence around the gaps between what data exists and what is needed.

Who is Asking Good Questions?

I like to find the individuals who ask good questions. They tend to be analytical and data driven, but don't necessarily have the technical skills to perform data discovery work to find answers on their own. Ideally, they are business decision makers or are highly influential to drive others to review data.

These people aren't necessarily the ones asking for reports from IT systems. IT systems tend to serve a single or a small number of departments, so requested reports tend to be operationally focused. Reports that show the health of a sales pipeline (CRM), trends in purchasing behavior (ecommerce), velocity of the development team (agile tools) or P/L performance (financials) are all examples of operationally focused reports. They all help answer questions on performance, alert if there is risk (metrics trending poorly), or provide metrics if specific activities are improving performance.

The best questions usually target more strategic transformations and often require correlating information from multiple data sources. The answers may demonstrate collaboration opportunities by showing how activity performed by one organization affect others. They help connect customer behavior to operational activities or decisions around the supply chain.

Examples of Good Big Data Driven Questions

Here are some examples of good Big Data questions that lead to discovery, insight and action
  • IT - How much user interaction is there on our our most expensive IT systems, what are users doing, in what business processes is it used in, and how much value is it driving?
  • Marketing - From what lead generation activities are we yielding customers with the shortest sales cycles or highest retention?
  • Product - What are the most common activities performed by regular visitors to our site and which of them drive the most revenue?
It has been my experience that identifying individuals that ask the tough questions is a key step to becoming a data driven organization. So who is asking them in your organization and how are you supporting them?

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.