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Big Data is Not The Answer

August 13, 2013
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Data is consuming us. 2.5 exabytes of data are created every day (Harvard Business Review, Big Data: The Management Revolution, October 2012). That is equivalent to 2.6 million terabytes of information. By contrast, the laptop I’m typing this on holds 8 gigabytes of memory. It would take 128 laptops to store even one terabyte.

Technology continues to rapidly change how we conduct business. Like most innovations, especially in technology, the solution is not in the content (data in this case) but how you analyze and execute on the content.

Last month, researchers at the University of Kansas concluded that most universities could benefit from “comprehensive, scientifically based plans to identify the unique aspects of a university that alumni identify with and that doing so could lead to more successful and efficient fundraising.” Finding ways to connect with consumers in meaningful ways is critical for success. Seeking knowledge through research is paramount, but acting on that research is equally important.

We recently completed a research and experience audit for Wake Forest University. This included a close examination of the school’s current offerings, its stakeholders and the competition in-conference. Segmenting the population of stakeholders to athletes, donors and student athlete alumni, The Innovation Lab’s master plan made recommendations the school has begun to implement.

Tying research and insights to actionable recommendations helps Wake Forest compete with much larger public universities. When we began this research, we utilized three primary principles to leverage our data.

Know What You Are Testing

– Use the scientific method; hypothesize and limit your variables

– Don’t test everything at once, doing so will only confuse your results

Only Tackle What You Can Analyze

– You likely have more data than you can use

– Don’t try to utilize all of your data at once

Utilize Data for Your Biggest Business Needs

– Data can be powerful, but it can also be time consuming

– The business need must drive the data project, not the other way around

Using this method of research organization allowed our team to make out-of-the-box recommendations to Wake Forest to help tailor and design the experience their stakeholders have with their services and facilities.

Most of the time, people can’t tell you exactly what they want. Data can offer insight, but it takes in-depth analysis and creative thinking to turn metrics and databases into actionable ideas and recommendations.

Research for Wake Forest, once compiled, revealed a need to include reorganizing physical space that would allow the school to better utilize public spaces and student athlete-specific areas. The research also showed that the first touch stakeholders were having with the school happened long before they stepped foot on campus: their digital footprint was a key touchpoint. Another insight to come from the findings outlined that outreach in the community, Winston-Salem, was an important step to improve how both recruits and fans experienced the school.

Without research, execution strategies would only be guesses. However, that very research requires more analysis than compiling a report. Our work on this project and others clearly shows while that Big Data is not the answer, it is the start.