I don't care about big data

I don't care about big data.

An old saw of investing is if a taxi driver provides you a share market tip, it's probably time to sell down on that stock. In the modern world I'm not sure that's as true - I've met quite a few brokers and day traders who moonlight as Uber drivers.

" What's much more important to me and to the future of any digital organisation is small data."
Nick Reed, GGM Risk Transformation

What’s this got to do with data and analytics? Well in a taxi to the airport the other day my driver spent the entire trip extolling the benefits of big data.

So does that mean big data is suddenly in a bull market now it's become a taxi driver discussion topic? It’s certainly in a bull market for tech coverage.

Every business or technology article I read online that isn't about how fintechs are going to kill the banks (and even the ones that are) are about the explosion in the creation of data and about how companies that harness the power of this "big" data are going to be the winners of tomorrow.

We've all heard about how the world has created more data in the past two years than we did in the entirety of human history prior, about how we are now creating something like 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day.

My response to all of this? Well, what's a quintillion? And who cares? Big Data is actually "relatively" unimportant.

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What's much more important to me and to the future of any digital organisation is small data. Small data is critical. It doesn't get the credit it deserves. But without it Big Data goes nowhere.

What do I mean by small data? Well, your name, your phone number, your email address, your physical address, your date of birth, your driver’s licence number, your bank account number, your Twitter handle etc - these are all examples of the small data that makes the world go around.

Unfortunately we (collectively) don't put enough emphasis on ensuring these little snippets of data are accurate.

Here's a test for you all: go to the Contacts App on your phone and count the number of contacts in your phone that (a) are duplicates, (b) are not complete, or (c) are out of date or inaccurate. My guess - more than 20 per cent of the list falls into one or more of those categories.

These are people that are close to you, that you care about, and that you interact with regularly. Yet their data is still not accurate.

Extrapolate that problem for a company that manages tens of millions of contacts (read: customers). What's the takeaway? Small data is of huge importance.


Banks are the custodians of lots of this small data but it's not theirs - it's yours. The sector have a shared responsibility to make sure this small data is accurate however because it allows customers to be protected and provides them with a ticket to play in the modern, digital world.

Banks have a job to do to improve the way they create, store, check and use this data – with permission – for customer advantage.

For a bank, better management and use of small data is enlightened self interest, better for them, better for customers.

So honestly, I do care about Big Data, a LOT - but it's only valuable to an organisation that can connect it to great quality, complete and timely small data.

Who cares if you have millions of rows of clickstream data analysis for users of your website if, when you convert that information into  an up sell offer, you send it to rather than because someone mistyped the address when transposing it off your membership form three years ago.

The only way you can be successful at Big Data is to be exceptional at small data.

By the way - no one knows this better than my taxi driver. Get the address wrong at pick up and you'll be waiting around the corner as the Uber driver sweeps in to the accurate GPS coordinates and picks up your fare.

Nick Reed is GGM Risk Transformation at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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