Forget Big Data, the Value Is in 'Big Answers'

The CTO of Barack Obama's reelection campaign says we need to stop worrying about big data and turn our attention instead to the 'big answers' the data provides. EMC, which made big data news this week, is one tech company that plans to translate big answers into big customer wins.

By Rob Enderle
Fri, March 01, 2013

CIO — Harper Reed, the CTO of President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, spoke at this week's impressive EMC Greenplum Pivotal HD announcement. Reed really put big data in perspective.

Big data isn't important, Reed says. People supplying the money for projects aren't looking for a solution to the big data problem. They want answers—and not just any answer, but a "big answer" that would allow them to advance their companies and their careers. It doesn't matter to them whether data is big, medium or tiny. They just want that critical answer to a question, and they want it yesterday.

While this last point played into the announcement of a massive increase in performance, reducing the analytics process from days to minutes, the more interesting part was taking the focus off the data and putting it on the result.

'Big Answer' Lessons From the 2012 Presidential Election

I previously wrote about the 2012 presidential election, since the two campaigns took very different approaches and got very different results, which I think speak to outsourcing. Mitt Romney outsourced his analytics to a number of expert analytics firms that didn't have much political knowledge.

In watching the election unfold, it appeared that these firms found the fastest path to revenue was to give the Republican campaign the answers it wanted—that Romney was winning—irrespective of the truth. This is why Republican analysts were so confident in their later-proven-wrong predictions that their man would win.

Analysis: Why the Presidential Election Was a Victory for Quants

Reed took a different approach, hiring a handpicked team to focus on the problem. As a result, the Democratic campaign was much more effective at not only seeing where the race would end up but, through effective micro targeting, in assuring a win. It was able to use the email addresses and social network IDs of Democratic candidates and their spouses to more effectively raise cash and to get the vote out.

In short, the Republicans used analytics to prove they were ahead, while the Obama campaign used analytics to assure it would win. The Republicans focused on the election date, while Reed focused on the achieving the desired result.

EMC Using Big Data to See Who's Unhappy With the Competition

This same strategy is playing out inside EMC. The storage vendor is using analytics for a number of reasons, the most interesting of which is keeping customers happy. EMC knows which customers are loyal, which customers are unhappy and which customers are trapped.

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