‘Small Data’ is a Big Thing

By Mehdi Bilgrami

The last few years have seen a deluge of media and corporate attention on the subject of ‘Big Data’ and the sophisticated tools available to analyse it in order to draw out insights. However, little to no attention has been paid to the ‘Small data’ that inevitably follows. The ideas, strategy and everything around execution is arguably more important than the Big data it came from, but is managed across a mish-mash of systems and communicated through spreadsheets, slides, websites and email: un-collaborative tools in a highly collaborative context.

Today, big businesses are scrambling to hire the best data scientists and spending eye-watering sums on cutting edge technology — all to be able to analyse the data they’d previously thrown away. Clearly, there are huge strategic advantages to be had by understanding patterns in data on customers, machinery, transactions — quite literally any aspect of your business. Capitalising on the human propensity towards visualisation, many of the new tools available have enabled corporate users to quickly analyse and draw insights from enormous data sets, setting strategy to drive profitability.

However, reaching a level of insight to form a strategy is only half the battle — as we all know, strategy without execution is just hallucination. Being able to clearly communicate the insights, pull in teams of experts, iterate the ideas and then spawn and track projects linked to your strategy are all key to achieving success.

All of these activities create a deluge of ‘small’ data (or perhaps ‘medium’ data as in this blog) — documents, spreadsheets, impressive visuals from analytic tools pasted onto PowerPoint slides etc.These artefacts are then siloed away in SharePoint sites or email accounts — disconnected from your business or lost in a sea of folders, activity streams and chat forums. Even the feedback workflow is overly painful, iterating/emailing links or versions of documents, receiving comments via distribution lists and leaving it for someone to trawl through, update, re-attach/re-upload/re-send.

Point solutions have emerged to solve some of the issues, like Prezi for aesthetics, Slideshare for cloud based sharing or SharePoint/Box/Huddle for secure, enterprise-wide content management. However, when communicating we still have massively labour intensive workflows to create the visualisations that really make a difference — whether slides or custom artwork.

Enterprise Social Networks (ESN’s, á la Jive, Tibbr and Yammer) solve other problems around connecting management, employees and customers. Yet, real collaboration and decision making around roadmaps, product pipelines, business unit profitability and other ‘data driven’ business processes is hugely fragmented, with valuable information and feedback siloed into discussion forums and email.

One solution to these problems is to wrap your data into an object-oriented view, as we do with SharpCloud software. Through this approach, you can easily attribute metrics to the things that matter to your business, visualise these objects in a variety of ways (e.g. Gantt time lines, bubble charts or simple lists), attach documents and links and, importantly, have everything update automatically as data changes. Now, your audience immediately gets an overview, and can drill down where they need to — without being forced into the linear trap of slide decks.

This approach also allows you to capture feedback on the objects themselves, making the lives of the author and the audience much easier, since the comments, documents, videos and raw data truly sit within the context of what they are about. The author(s) is no longer required to figure out where to make the change and the viewer is saved from trawling websites and folders searching for documentation.

Furthermore, SharpCloud allows for real collaboration (i.e. co-creation, discussion and decision-making), with important information and commentary stuck in context — alongside documents, data, slides or video. For example, if the objects are, say, products in your innovation pipeline — decision makers in your business can view and compare their attributes visually, decide something as a group (by voting, scoring or simply moving the objects on the screen), while all of the pertinent documentation is right in front of them, making sure everyone knows why they made their decisions through published commentary.

While all of these tools — PowerPoint, SharePoint, Excel and ESN’s — have their place in the enterprise, our customers are augmenting them with SharpCloud to more clearly communicate complexity, make decisions effectively and cater to the needs of todays global, connected, mobile workplace.

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