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Big Data

Ask your CEO, and they will say that your greatest asset is your people. Ask your marketing chief, and the answer will be your brand. And ask your CFO, your value is determined by your revenue or EBITDA. But is it possible that they may all be wrong… or may soon be? (Hint: how would your CIO answer?)

The profusion of systems has led to a bumper crop of data. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and all of the other social media sites track the beginning of the journey, while marketing automation tracks the latter part of it. CRM systems track prospect and client activity, while ERP systems track both “delivery” and financials. Other systems track post-sales service activity, while the organization’s websites (internet, extranet, and intranet) generate even more data. Finally, data can be shared from suppliers, clients, and other partners, or purchased from third parties to further enrich what you already have.

While the term big data has been around for a number of years already, the reality for most organizations is that they have a big data mess.  To begin extracting value from this asset, consider your organization’s data analytics maturity:

  • Level Zero: Does not collect data.  Relies on gut to make decisions. (And sporadic market research.)
  • Level I: Collects data within separate systems; reviews data sporadically.
  • Level II: Data architecture that combines and “relates” all of the data from the disparate systems, so that it can later be used. Data is cleansed, and duplicate records removed. (The reason all this happens is that a specific person has been assigned the role of data steward/master data manager.) Unfortunately, the data is not generally accessible, except through difficult programming or special requests.
  • Level III: Specific slices of the data are exposed in real-time for better decision-making. Each user role may have a different dashboard, depending on their responsibilities, while standard reports are used throughout the organization.
  • Level IV: The data is proactively plumbed for insights, risks, and opportunities, possibly with machine learning and artificial intelligence.  Internal and external data are married to provide higher order insights and competitive advantage.

Most organizations are at Level zero or I, yet aspire to Level IV without doing the heavy lifting required of Levels II and III. Building competitive advantage through data is just not possible without an investment in systems, an ongoing investment in data quality, and data analytics.

This week’s action plan:  What level are you at?  This week, begin the process of moving to the next level by socializing these concepts with your colleagues: share this Tipsheet to begin the conversation.

This year’s action plan: Systems and data quality are easy, but proactive data analytics is a skill most organizations do not have, and often, do not understand.  Over the next year, identify a person or group that can do this, either internally or externally.

Related post:  Data/Information/Intelligence.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)



Information wants to be free.  Unless it doesn’t want to be.  Nowhere was this more clear than on a recent vacation to one of the western hemisphere’s last bastions of non-freedom, Cuba.

The Cubans we met were super-friendly, happy, and entrepreneurial.  The culture was replete with amazing music, history, architecture, and national pride.  And the beaches were amongst the best in the world. 

The country, however, is literally cut off from much of the western world, largely because of the remnants of the 1960s cold war, and the philosophical divide between the American and Cuban governments.  Cuba does trade with Russia, China, Venezuela, Eastern Europe, Canada, and a few others.  Perhaps because of the closed nature of the country, perhaps because of the American embargo, or perhaps because of geography, Cuba has become a society seemingly frozen in amber.

Randall Craig in Havana CubaCuba is one of the few places where there is no web access, and for citizens who happen to have a computer, email only.  On one hand, this virtual firewall is repressive; no news can find its way in, and no Cuban culture can find its way out.  On the other hand, you don’t see people attached to their mobile devices, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and all of the other solitary activities those in the west seem addicted to.  In the words of Modesto, a driver we hired for the day to see Cuba beyond our resort: “Why do I need computer[s]?  I have my job, my family, my friends.”  And indeed, he does have these.  But like a blind man trying to fathom the difference between two colors, is his comment borne of not knowing what he can’t know?  Or of a deeper wisdom that was stifled in the west, when the Social Media genie was let out of the bottle?

A lesson, perhaps, for those with the option to choose: Does every minute spent on Social Media strengthen our relationships with others, or distract us from being “in the moment” with those we care about most? 

Cuba actually does have internet access.  In the entire Varadero area, there are two locations where those with passports can purchase an access card for 30 minutes for the equivalent of $3.00.  While the connection speed is exceptionally slow, and likely monitored by the government, it is a way for a tourist to gain access to the outside world.  Or, in my case, check for critical emails from the office.

Unfortunately, I was not able to.

Our firm decided (wisely) to place all of our critical infrastructure (telephone, email, fileservers, etc) in the cloud.  This meant, for example, that we would rely on Google Apps to host and manage our corporate email.  We never guessed that access to it would be blocked when out of the United States or Canada.

Interestingly, it was neither the internet cafe nor the Cuban government that prevented access.  Instead, it was Google itself.  That’s right – Google!  Upon login, a “helpful” screen informed me that Google Apps for Work does not allow email logins from Cuba, and a handful of other countries. (The free gmail has no such restrictions though.)

Putting aside the gall of Google for preventing me from accessing my corporate email, for which they are paid a fee to provide, this is a tremendous argument for ensuring that corporate data, functionality, and access to it does not fall prey to another country’s extraterritorial laws.  I don’t recall agreeing to this restriction, although I expect that digging deeply into Google’s terms and conditions, I would find it.

The benefits of cloud-hosted data and functionality cannot be overstated.  Yet how often, when outsourced to a third party, are we fully aware of the constraints under which these third parties operate?  And particularly, whose laws?

While this question might seem more appropriate for Corporate IT managers, consider what this means for us as individuals: Don’t think you use the cloud?  Think again:

  • Dropbox filesharing
  • iCloud and iTunes
  • Google Drive, Google Docs, and Gmail
  • Hotmail, Office 360, and Microsoft OneDrive
  • Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and all other public Social Networks.

Whether they are free or paid is irrelevant: the question is whether you actually know where the data is stored?  Or what laws apply that may restrict your access to it?  Or for that matter, gives 3rd parties access to your data, sometimes without your knowledge, and sometimes without a court order?

Most sophisticated IT managers understand the due diligence that is required to address the issues of cloud risks, including data sovereignty and access.  But there are two gaps:  Social Media – often mission critical from a strategic marketing perspective – is noticeably absent from the cloud-risk checklist.  And as cloud functionality migrates to the individual level, most people don’t even know what questions to ask.  They rely on the cloud “magic” to just work, without a second thought about data sovereignty, access, or other risks.

While a vacation to Cuba is actually supposed to be a vacation from work, it is hard not to look around and beyond the beauty of the country, find a lesson or two… in the clouds.

This week’s action plan:  List all of the cloud-hosted systems that you use, both corporately and personally.  Then one-by-one, discover which have fine print that can limit your access, or give back-door access to others.

Action plan #2:  When you’re on vacation, it’s actually not a bad decision to… be on vacation. Do you really need that internet access…?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

 Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
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When Market Research is insufficient… or ill-advised

by Randall Craig March 14, 2014

Yes, we do market research.  In fact, each year we (108 ideaspace and Bramm Research) have done industry benchmarking and best practices research in the area of Social Media.  So it might be surprising to read a post about when – and why – market research should not be done. At its core, the rationale […]

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