How to Use Big Data to Improve Business Decisions

We are flooded with an almost infinite number of data streams these days. From traditional sources such as registration and consumer purchasing platforms to social media feeds, tweets and Instagram updates, the amount of new data being created and disseminated is almost endless.

So the challenge isn’t ensuring that you have enough data about your constituents. Rather, it’s knowing which data is salient and having the right data at the right time to reach your audience with the right message to deepen the level of engagement.

Almost every organization I know has various islands of data. We are all struggling with ways to integrate all that data into a holistic picture of who the consumer is and what makes him or her tick.

Part of the challenge is having multiple vendors manage multiple consumer-facing applications and platforms. Another is the fact that various parts of a company engage the same consumer with different messages about multiple product or service offerings.

To the consumer, this can feel disjointed and annoying. For example, I routinely get messages from my cable provider asking me to sign up for its “triple play” package, even though I’ve been a customer of that package for more than four years!

Not providing a focused, targeted, clear message to customers alienates them at a time when our greatest desire is to create a deeper, more personalized level of engagement. We want our constituents to feel that we know and care about what matters to them—not that we are simply throwing stuff up against the wall in the hope that some of it will stick.

The first thing we need to do better is to figure out what data we already have on our potential audience. In a significant number of companies, there are departmental systems that many managers don’t even know exist.

Once we know what we have, we need to perform an analysis of what data we need to determine the delta between what we know about our consumers and prospects and what we want to know about them. Then we have to find a way to integrate all the essential data into a set of assets that can be easily leveraged by our business clients to help them drive campaigns to deepen consumer engagement. And they should be able to do this without having to know the intricacies of developing SQL queries and customized reports.

We also need to figure out how to better leverage social media to create a deeper level of engagement with our consumers; to understand how our brand is perceived in the virtual world; and to use this feedback to shape perception and deal with real issues in real time. All the marketing and advertising campaigns in the world won’t help if the buzz on the street is that your company doesn’t “get it,” or that your products and services don’t hit the mark by delivering the kind of value your customers are demanding.

Big data isn’t about technology. It’s about creating that one-to-one personal experience that each of us craves as a consumer. Just remember how frustrated you get when you deal with a company that you’ve done business with for years and they have no idea of who you are and what you care about.

Larry Bonfante is an award-winning CIO with 35 years of experience in the IT industry. As the founder of CIO Bench Coach, he has served as an executive coach and trusted adviser to executives at some of the most prestigious companies in the world. You can contact him on email at and follow him on Twitter at @bonfante.

Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at

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