Independent Thinking Blog

Is “Big Data” Good for Business?

Do you like “Big Data”?

McKinsey released an interesting report last year that does a good job of laying out the key ways data is being employed in a business environment. The report identifies five broad categories:

  • Transparency
  • Performance metrics
  • Customer segmentation
  • Decision making
  • Product development

While there is no question that businesses need to be data savvy, what does this mean for consumers?

I’m a fan of the personalization that smart use of data enables. From a business perspective, I like that there’s more data to make smarter business decisions. As a consumer, I like that the coupons the grocery store register spits out are increasingly tied to items that I purchase. I like that I can log onto Amazon and see relevant recommendations and execute one-click checkout. But any time I look up anything related to health care (in general or my own), I go into incognito mode. No cookies, no tracers, fewer direct ties to me.

Big Data is awesome, except when it is not.

I was talking with a colleague the other day who is creeped out by the amount of information that most companies know about you–especially online. It’s a familiar concern, and one that companies are going to have to address.

In What Larry Page Doesn’t Understand, blogger Maxwell Wessel writes about Google’s push forward with intentional search:

“Google wants to know everything about you with the intention of ‘improving’ your Internet experience. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, there’s something that Larry Page doesn’t seem to understand: delivering what he calls ‘Search Plus Your World’ is going to create some problems.”


Wessel goes on to talk about a case study involving consumers and pharmacy data–as with Google, it’s about expectations and trust. His article offers lots of food for thought–and is well worth the read.

McKinsey’s big data report, meanwhile, notes that:

“In developing a privacy policy, organizations will need to thoughtfully consider what kind of legal agreements, and, more importantly, trust expectations, it wants to establish with its stakeholders. And it will need to communicate its policies clearly to its stakeholders, especially customers, as they become increasingly savvy and concerned about what is known about them and how that information can potentially be used.”


Obviously the question isn’t “Big Data or no Big Data?” And almost everyone likes the relevance and convenience that savvy use of most of this data affords. But the more refined and personalized the data, the more potential for us (as consumers) to be creeped out by how much companies know about us. I’m not sure how we manage this balancing act, but we’d better figure it out.

What say you?

Photo by Inha Leex Hale (Flickr).

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