Understanding This ‘Big Data’ Thing


Given how much businesses toss around terms like “Big Data” and “data analytics,” you’d think every employee at every organization has the ability to slice and dice a dataset like a hyperactive ninja. Unfortunately, that’s not the case: A lot of people—especially managers—have precious little idea about how data analytics actually works.

And that’s a problem, because Big Data and analytics have only gotten more granular; at this point, a business can use data to make micro-decisions about customers and products. As these tools have grown in power, they’ve also become more ubiquitous: Every business wants to make informed micro-decisions about all operations, believing it will make the ultimate difference between success and failure.

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So what’s a manager to do if he or she has zero expertise in data? Here are some tips:

Understand What Data Can Actually Do

Despite what some folks might tell you, not all data is useful. Any organization must make consistent decisions about what types of data are non-trivial, and what sorts of analyses will actually add value. If the data can contribute something, it’s worth something.


The Data Warehouse Institute (TDWI) is all about data and business intelligence; it has a number of contacts, experts and valuable resources that you can use to learn about everything from decision-support systems to harnessing data for value. Its resources include articles, community blogs, seminars, and webinars.


People tend to forget that, buried among the millions of moronic cat videos and movie clips, there are actually useful (and free) resources on YouTube. When it comes to anything data-related, search for:

  • Decision Support Systems
  • Benefits of Decision Support Systems
  • Operational Intelligence
  • Leveraging Data for Business
  • Business Analytics

Once you’ve spent a couple hours studying, make sure to reward yourself with an idiotic cat video.

Trade Journals and Blogs

You can also rely on Google to help you find the latest articles, trade journals, and blogs on data analytics. While some of these resources will quickly get far too arcane for anyone who isn’t an actual data scientist, many will give you enough top-level information to understand what’s actually going on when people start talking about Hadoop or datasets. Examples of some useful searches include:

  • Decision Management Systems
  • Putting Analytics to Work
  • Delivering Customer Value With Big Data Analytics
  • Decision Support Systems (DSS) for Business Decision-Making


Organizations need to see the value of analytics and data-driven processes in their day-to-day operations. Fortunately, there are also some easy ways for managers of any organization to get themselves “up to speed” on decision analytics. It may be as simple as searching on Google, leveraging webinars, or getting a membership to a professional group.