Small Data is Beautiful

PJ Surani
Sep 07, 2018

The cost of data analytics tools is expected to hit $187 Billion by 2019. Staggeringly, in 2020, 1.7 Megabytes of data will be created every second. For every single person on earth. The Big Data hype looms over every organisation and harnessing this is central to any business ambitions.

Organisations have focused on collecting huge quantities of data and then simply storing it. All of this data - both structured and unstructured - hangs over us like a storm cloud, growing larger and more ominous at an alarming rate. Reportedly 85% of companies are data driven, however only 37% of that number say they have been successful in unlocking the value of this data.

Big Data is a top business priority, but how do leaders ensure that their organisations are utilising data successfully? Is the answer to invest in more high cost data scientists? Invest in newer and better analytics tools to navigate through the sea of information?

Sure, these are valuable if you know what data needs to be analyzed, the precise information that needs to extrapolated. And of course, you’ll also need a clear vision of the your objective, and how to improve the core business offering or open up new opportunities.

Big Data certainly has its place. Businesses can build strategies around data and analysis, rather than relying on experience and intuition. Actionable solutions are derived for aspects of day-to-day processes - spotlighting errors and trends achieve this with ease.

Companies making data driven decisions are seeing noteworthy gains. However, the question remains - what about small data?

Small data lifts the veil on detail. It’s agile, timely and can deliver truly meaningful insights. Small data makes allowances for emotional or artisanal influence.

Take Airbnbs, for example, they are a huge collector of data and insights and their recent offering around ‘experiences.’ Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO, pinpoints their success on the strategy of painstaking and handcrafted labour, focusing on successfully satisfying each and every client before scaling. Put that strategy under a magnifying glass and the key information to be gleaned is that in order to satisfy clients and build such a popular service, they leant intentionally on their feedback, reacting accordingly on a one-to-one basis.

The focus here is on small data sets and this data can be directly correlated through the lens of human connection. Understanding this emotional connection in the context of wider data-tracked influencers provides a platform for creative questioning and delivery of that magical moment of serendipity - the emotionally generated data solution.

The conclusion was that Airbnb were able to scale and drive emotional connections, all initially centred around tracking of small data before being scaled to create a relevant big data stack. And when small became big, Airbnb remained focused on individual needs and emotions, delivered in context and relevant.

A number of years ago - at a time of key market shift - a renegade team at Lego made the brave step to ignore the realms of big data that had been commissioned and bank on the small data insights.

And a story revealed by an old pair of sneakers.

The big data was supporting a narrative that ‘Digital Natives’ born during the information era lacked the time and patience for Lego. At the time Lego was on the verge of company break-up and there seemed little hope for turnaround. As with many companies they were looking at the big data analysis for clues and insights to support critical business decisions. However, during a marketing exercise a team visited a German eleven year old in the hope of understanding Lego’s relevance and connection with children. When the boy was asked what his prized possession was, he pointed to an old pair of sneakers, worn down from honing his skateboarding skills. The insight was powerful, the team recognised that even kids that belong to the ‘instant gratification era’ will spend hours and hours on their passion.

Thankfully this nugget was enough to save the company and see it in profit year after year since.

With ever-increasing amounts of data there is a drive for investment in superior analytics tools, which will soon enough generate the promised results from big data as well as making it more manageable. Meanwhile, we must learn to unshackle ourselves from the allure of big data and embrace the magical and meaningful data that comes from being ‘small.’

The core challenge is sifting through the reams and reams of big data to get to the small - or alternatively start with small - abandon the big and then scale for the big data emotional connection.

PJ Surani

Experienced Digital Specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry.