The Curse of Analytics and the Big Data Hype

From ads like the above (a SAS ad from the Economist) to the 7 articles I count posted on Forbes with Big Data in the title since July 1st to the huge number of new startups popping up, it’s safe to say that analytics and Big Data are hot. But honestly – what do analytics actually mean for business? Especially for the businesses, websites, stores, etc that we work on every day?

Here’s the problem – analytics are expensive. They take time, they take knowledge, they take investment in analysis tools and data systems, and crucially, they require we be willing to change our behavior based on what we learn.

Moreover, analytics without purpose and no tie to decisions keep us from focusing on the most important tasks ahead of us.  It’s a lot like eating a Snickers bar for lunch – it’s tasty, but it doesn’t stick with us for very long and doesn’t leave us much better off.

Analytics are clearly important for SaaS and Ecommerce businesses, but spending time and resources on analytics that aren’t directly affecting our decisions is not. Given this, I’d propose the following criteria for using analytics tools or investing in analysis:

  • Are they directly tied to us making different decisions?
  • Are the decisions they affect directly linked to our performance?
  • Do they provide us enough confidence or statistics for us to trust their results?
  • Are we able to evaluate their impact on our decisions?
  • Do we already know the answer?

All of these new tools will keep making us smarter – we just need to make sure we use that intelligence to take better actions (and not just to assume that we will).


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