A book launch and a big data discussion

Back at the end of 2009 I, and other colleagues and teachers from the Porto Business School, were challenged to transform some previous work into chapters for a book about new trends in marketing intelligence. The challenge was accepted, we rolled up our sleeves, and the chapters started taking shape.

A few trials and tribulations on the editorial side delayed initial plans a bit but finally the book (in Portuguese) Novas Tendências em Marketing Intelligence was launched yesterday to my great pleasure. Hooray!

LivroNovasTendências

The book features four chapters where I’m either the author or the co-author (and suddenly I’m reminded of the frantic rhythm I experienced during 2010 while juggling several projects!) with topics ranging from Sampling and Market Research, New Trends and Challenges in Market Research, Data Mining & Business Strategy, and Business Process Management.

To mark the event I was invited to participate in a discussion panel around the impact of these new trends in businesses together with BPM expert Jorge Coelho and Data Mining expert Carlos Soares. Each of us brought to the table our different views on the current challenges and opportunities that businesses experience, and I started by reminding the audience that in a VUCA world we need to rethink organizational design and challenge some of past management practices and the way we design our business processes. As John P. Kotter stated in a great post for HBR in November 2012:

Perhaps the greatest challenge business leaders face today is how to stay competitive amid constant turbulence and disruption

The conversation soon defaulted to the topic of big data, though I’m far from being highly knowledgeable on the topic, and the panel ended up being a warm-up session for a talk on that same topic presented by Miguel Veloso. Miguel kicked off his talk by highlighting some trends:

  • customers are demanding personalized solutions from brands
  • customer touchpoints with a company or brand have increased significantly
  • the digital shift (or Darwinism) is upon us
  • companies are trying to organize & act with customer-centricity in mind (though I would say in many cases it’s more lip service than anything else)

He then explained how the evolution of computing power and technology enabled more sophisticated data processing and analytical capabilities, increasingly giving rise to data-driven innovation processes: the right product or service, for the right customer at the right moment. These higher analytical capabilities, coupled with the volume, variety and velocity of new data generated, characterizes the big data phenomenon (though when it comes to volume Carlos Soares introduced an interesting concept: “big” should be evaluated vis-à-vis an organization’s computational power and not as an absolute quantity).

Companies must understand how to integrate different data sources, including existing structured transactional data with new data formats, but most importantly what that data will help them accomplish in terms of improved business processes and value generated. And here Miguel left us an important warning: success starts with defining the strategy and goals behind any big data project and only then considering the 3 pillars of a big data project: technology, processes and competencies (this sounds common sense but how often common sense is forgotten in many organizations? Many times it seems).

On the topic of competencies both Miguel and Carlos seemed to agree that data science is a combination of art, science and engineering, a combination not easily available in the market. The risk, Carlos warned, is that with not enough data scientists around to do quality work, we run the risk of inflating the big data bubble and leave it to, and quote, “snake oil consultants that charge twice as much because it’s a big data project”.

All in all it was a very agreeable end to a workday. And it’s not every day that you get your name featured in a book!

3 thoughts on “A book launch and a big data discussion

  1. Minor clarification: the relativity of “big” (in Big Data) is not my idea!
    The discussion about the “art, science and engineering” perspective of a DM project is becoming increasingly interesting for me. Although not so different from other types of project, I think that the relative importance of the three dimensions may be more balanced in DM. Thus, (and going back to my usual sermon) the importance of suitable education is greater (as is the danger of hype).
    Anyway, nice post! Thanks.

    • Thanks for the clarification Carlos! By “introduced an interesting concept” I wasn’t referring to authorship but meant “shared during the discussion”, thus bringing to the table a new perspective.

      Besides the art+science+engineering combination (and its scarcity in the talent market) I’m also interested to see how organizations (for or non-for profit) and governments/cities will use the sea of data and computing capabilities. Time will tell…

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