In the 1996 film, Jerry Maguire, sports agent Jerry, portrayed by Tom Cruise, is given a very clear demand by his sole remaining client, portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this role): SHOW ME THE MONEY. It does not take much time or effort to see that this is the essence of what businesses must do to survive. If they cannot show the money in some way, they will go away. The culture we have today, at least here in the United States, is very much driven by money: on Wall Street, on Main Street, in Politics, in the Legal system to an extent, in Journalism to an extent… That SHOW ME THE MONEY idea is everywhere. But we have been seeing a bit of a shift in HOW that money gets shown. It is not just about selling more widgets or getting higher ratings anymore. More and more organizations are realizing the untapped potential that is their DATA. Some have understood this for years. Facebook, for example, is in essence a data aggregator and reseller, using what we share, and the metadata around what we share, as a PRODUCT to sell. Have no illusions, my friends, we are NOT Facebook’s customers, we are the producers of their product: data. That data has been and will continue to be crucial to the strategic decisions of Facebook. They are not alone in relying heavily on data.
Think about how Netflix transformed how we watch movies (and TV). They rely immensely on data to drive their entire business model. They use data to drive how movies are displayed to their users. They don’t leave that up to people sitting in a board room playing politics over their own ideas. It is driven by data flowing through algorithms. And it WORKS. The rise of Netflix and the demise of Blockbuster can attest to that. Netflix prevailed, in my opinion, largely because they focused on staying ahead of their customers instead of trying to keep up with their competitors. How many companies spend so much time trying not to fall too far behind their competitors? Organizations that do this are, unconsciously, working to achieve mediocrity.
How often do people make decisions about their Business based on information they believe to be true? How often do we, as consumers, make purchases based on believing information provided to us by manufacturers or advertisers? On the whole, as consumers, we tend not use data all that well. Shouldn’t we demand more? Shouldn’t we demand to the people trying to sell us their products and their ideas: SHOW ME THE DATA? We can. We just have to choose to do so. And as business leaders, we need to rely less on that gut feel and intuition and more on the reality that is before us. We, as global citizens today, need to stop looking to the Media or the Internet for information that makes us feel good about the assumptions we have already made and like. We need to, instead, seek information on the reality of our situation. That reality, for organizations, is often sitting in storage arrays and hard drives as flat files and databases. In some cases, showing the money even just boils down to putting your data to work. I have worked on projects for clients that held large amounts of data on their clients in their industry. The solutions I helped create allowed these organizations to provide their clients’ own data back to them, along with helpful analysis, as a premium service. These organizations turned their DATA into a revenue stream. They stopped just storing their data and started using it.
There is a presentation I have given before titled Keeping the Business in Business Intelligence. In that presentation, I boil down what Business Intelligence is in four simple, yet impactful words: BETTER DECISIONS THROUGH EVIDENCE. When all is said and done, the real point behind any data-driven application or solution, particularly BI, is to make better decisions. As an example, organizations measure performance in order to DECIDE what activities to stop, continue, start, increase, decrease, etc. The word EVIDENCE there is key. Making better decisions is not just about Data. It is about the RIGHT data. It is about accurate, timely data. It is about data that has been deemed trustworthy. It is not really about getting more data, either. To me, the promise of Big Data is not that it lets us use ever larger, more diverse sources of data as a whole, but rather that those technologies help us comb through every more vast sets of data to find the bits that we need. It seems like a subtle difference, but I think it is an important one.
As the Subject Matter Expert in the development of the new BI offering we are rolling out at Digineer, the consulting firm I work for and adore, I was able to fold these ideas and philosophy into the foundation of our point of view on BI. I am proud of the way I have been able to drive the overall story. I will be co-presenting with a colleague on Wednesday, August 27 at 11am CDT on the concepts laid out here and more examples from the real world (some Digineer clients, some not). The presentation will focus on how organizations like Netflix have been able to use data effectively in driving their strategy. It will NOT be a big long sales pitch. It will be very much about the concepts above and hopefully inspire people to make better use of an asset that has huge potential be transformative for their organizations. If you would like to join in the discussion, I would encourage you to follow the link, Imagine What You Can Do With Data, and register. I am confident you will take away some valuable ideas on how you can prepare yourself for the next time someone makes this demand of you: SHOW ME THE DATA.