Needle vs. Haystack: The Power of Small Data over Big Data

As we conclude this five-part series on the major themes and plays emerging in the 2014 Tech Marketers Playbook, we zero in on the big data discussion.

Big data has meant big business for the past several years and remains a top CIO priority for most. The big data stats get more startling each week: silicon-based computing power will soon outpace the collective cognitive powers of every person on the planet, and the rate at which we generate data is only growing exponentially. We live in a data economy, data is the new currency, we are all data geeks, etc.

Credit: Camila Bobin

But the truth is we’re experiencing a big data hangover. Gartner calls it “the trough of disillusionment,” and big data has been there since last year. Why? Because … we’re drowning in data but starving for insights.

The problem is that traditionally, big data has been about pattern recognition and seeing the forest for the trees. But for modern businesses skiing downhill at breakneck speeds on black diamond slopes, seeing the next tree is just as important. What if I don’t need to see forests and patterns? What if I just need to make the right decision, right now?

To heck with big data. We need small data.

A number of nimble companies have hit upon the same idea. Rather than look backwards at patterns and guess at trajectories to be debated at the next board meeting, an increasing number of solutions across multiple tech markets are focused on democratizing decision-making processes and increasing the agility and speed with which the right decisions can be made. And those decisions are being empowered by particularly useful smaller pieces of data that make a big impact on business. We see this in social media insights from the likes of HootSuite, cyber-security analytics from companies like Narus, marketing data and algorithms from companies like Lyris, and even sales compensation formulae and corporate incentive strategies from companies like Xactly. Small data—when it is the right data at the right time—is having the biggest impact on real-time human decisions.

And ultimately, tech PR should be about people, not technology. We are the most effective in our work when explaining why the technology matters rather than showcasing how it works. By telling more stories around the human aspects of technology—ingenuity, creativity, experience and wisdom—we in the tech PR community can have a more positive impact on our clients, our companies and our culture at large.

Next week we take a step back from the PR Playbook and focus instead on the power of storytelling—and how with great power comes great responsibility.