Data, Data — Yadda, Yadda
I take a lot of briefings — more than one per day every one of the 250 or so work days in a year and it’s not unusual for me to not remember a company when they call up six months later asking for a quote for a press release. Would you? To be memorable the briefing has to have something that sticks in my brain and, hopefully, that something is a good thing or why bother.
There is a science to briefing analysts and it involves repetition. The more you are in our faces the stickier your messaging is. Three or four times per year — if you have something to say — is a good metric. Salesforce understands this and has always been one of the better companies at leveraging its relationships with analysts. It works for them too because they get a lot of free publicity. Lots of companies start the year off strong but fail to follow up in three or four months and many conclude erroneously that briefing analysts is a waste of time.
Many of the briefings and phone conversations that I have had lately have involved big data and social media though not necessarily together. In one of these briefings I had a revelation that I want to share. Too often vendors use slides and demonstrations to show me how they manipulate data as if data manipulation was an end in itself, but it’s not.
They might show how much data they can corral or how much data they can deliver to a user but the demos usually show more and more people manipulating data without results. The demos remind me of feeding a one year old. Just because you put food in front of them doesn’t necessarily mean the food will get inside where it can do some good.
But data is only useful when it is consumed as information and the surest indicator of consumption success is if in retrospect a user can say, “This is the data that provided the information I needed.” Very often that need is for decision making and if you think about it that little scenario has been the hallmark of the whole information age in which we live. Turn data into information and use it to make better, faster and more numerous decisions.
This all has a practical point. In market research that Esteban Kolsky and I did late last year (and we’re going to repeat it this year too) we asked about hindrances to adoption of social media in business. Know what? Top of mind for most people were issues relating to use — How do we use this stuff? What business processes should we be applying this to? And very interestingly, the vendors at the time and even today don’t answer the question. When they demo they provide scenarios that show data being shared but not necessarily being consumed by doing something valuable.
Again, value is created when someone makes a decision based on the data that social and other technologies churn up. This scenario tells me that full adoption of social and big data ideas won’t take place as long as CEOs see demos of employees manipulating social data but not landing the plane by making good decisions because these scenarios are indistinguishable from watching employees “play” with social media. They show people doing something that isn’t exactly work and not arriving at the decisions that would normally make it all worthwhile. That doesn’t inspire a lot of CEO confidence.
So the big take away? Ironically, most social and data tools I see demoed — and I see a lot — have the capacity to demonstrate decision making but they don’t. It’s a bug not in the product but in the marketing and it can be easily fixed. Without that fix, though, I’m afraid that all the data! data! screaming we’re doing is just so much yadda, yadda.