by Gunjan Trivedi

Little Data is Bigger

Mar 12, 20145 mins
AnalyticsBig DataBusiness

Managing Big Data in isolation doesn't yield much value. Analyzing it in conjunction with Little Data makes insights smarter and more impactful.

Gunjan Trivedi is executive editor at IDG Media. He is an award-winning writer with over a decade of experience in Indian IT. Before becoming a journalist, he had been a hands-on IT specialist, with expertise in setting up WANs. Reach him at  I wasn’t much into counting calories or steps that I took in a day. A quick look at my frame would confirm this. It was not because I believed more in binging or perhaps comfort food. Nor was I missing the point of the importance of being healthy and I did see the big picture (no pun intended). It was more to do with the rigmarole of counting numbers. Or let’s say keeping track of these little nuggets of data. And that’s where the devil lay.  Globally, CIOs of organizations across various verticals, are trying to make logical sense of this term that has been hitting us hard for a couple of years now—Big Data. Conceptually, Big Data has been pushing management away from taking calls based on gut feel and intuition, and toward decision making that is inherently data-driven. While, in my opinion, this is also a valid point of contention in itself, we’d focus on the value of data for the scope of this column. And, perhaps revisit this argument later. As the Chief Catalyst of Orbit & Co., Mark Bonchek says in his blog in Harvard Business Review, Big Data is what organizations know about people—customers, citizens, employees, or voters.   He goes on to point out that data is aggregated from a large number of sources, assembled into a massive data store, and analyzed for patterns. He maintains that Big Data—coming in volume, velocity and variance—can be used to understand customer sentiment by sifting through social media interactions, to predict credit card fraud by analyzing billions of transactions, and to promote offers by making sense of millions of purchases.    But, we already know this. Don’t we? What we perhaps are missing is this context of what is now being generally referred to as Little Data. And that’s what adds value and veracity to the very concept of Big Data. Bonchek says that Little Data is what we know about ourselves. What we buy; who we know; where we go; how we spend our time. Or as David Williams, CEO of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services states in his blog: Little data refers to the data you own.  Boncheck goes on to articulate the differentiation between the two forms of data, so to speak. He says that while Big Data’s focus is to advance organizational goals, Little Data helps with valuable insights at individual levels. In fact, it does impact the appetite of individuals to augment data-driven decision making as the visibility of such simple, yet critical metrics increases. And, so does control.   Smartphones, mobile apps, wearables, Web analytics, customer service interactions, and M2M communications are all pumping in specific, yet vast amount of small-sized measurable metrics that are enhancing productivity of individual action areas. This is in addition to the Little Data that already resides in several systems at an organization. While Big Data converts all inputs as information to be analyzed across a vast ecosystem of an organization, businesses can tap into tacit insights at individual levels with Little Data. For example, a partner of Booz & Company, David Meer shares the case of Haier in his blog on Strategy+Business. The Chinese large-appliance maker heard its service technicians reporting that their rural customers were using their washing machines to wash vegetables, leading to clogs. Haier used this Little Data to develop a new type of washer, which the company promoted as a rugged machine that could wash not only clothes, but also sweet potatoes and peanuts. Imagine the impact on sales.   Customer service and experience expert, Shep Hyken, states the profound influence this combination of Big and Little Data has on businesses in his column online, “Any company can make decisions about its business based on general feedback and trends. But at the same time, the best companies also recognize that customers are not numbers or anonymous groups of people. They zero in on an individual customer’s needs, preferences, likes and dislikes, and give the customer an experience, that is, exactly what he or she wants based on specific buying patterns. The result is repeat business that can lead to customer loyalty.”  There’s an app on my phone that pings me to remind me to log in my food intake, or to tell me how active I have been through the day. I always knew that I led a sedentary lifestyle but I had never imagined that I was walking just a little over 10 percent of the number of steps that I should take. This Little Data now pushes me to walk my quota of 10,000 steps a day.  And, I know it can do much more than that.