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BIG insights from small data

October 2, 2014

Lisa Pratt is back! This week the anti-“hype queen” explains how data analysis doesn’t have to be “big” to yield meaningful results… Lisa is wicked smaht. An “A” student. Are you? Don’t forget I’m looking for more guest bloggers to share their insights on making workforce management work.

smalldataBy Lisa Pratt

“It is not the size of the warrior but the fury with which he fights.” This saying comes to mind when I think about Big Data and Analytics. For organizations that think they can’t do analytics because they don’t have Big Data, I would suggest that is not the size of the data but the ardor with which it is mined and acted on. Sure, you need a certain minimum amount of data otherwise anything you can learn is either easy to see, or the data is inadequate to create insights. And, yes, the tools and technology needed when you have truly Big Data are much more complex. However, there is plenty that can be learned and, more importantly, acted on with a more modest amount of data. And with the proliferation of data sources, the ability to gather relevant data is only getting easier.

When I was in graduate school at the School of Management at Syracuse University, I taught a Statistics in Business course to sophomore undergraduates. In addition to the usual tests and quizzes, each student had to obtain a data set, analyze it, and make actionable recommendations based on what the analysis uncovered. I had one student who had had a summer job as a waitress and had, fortuitously, kept a log of every shift she worked. She noted the month, date, day of the week, time, weather, tips earned, and a self-generated indicator of how hard she felt she worked for each shift. The student did a thorough analysis which helped her to understand which days, parts of the summer, meals, etc., resulted in maximum earnings all while putting in the minimum amount of effort. Clearly, this person was a diligent employee. So, when she was asked to return the following summer, she was able to be very specific in her shift requests to maximize her earnings while still having plenty of energy to enjoy her summer. Even small data can have a big impact if analyzed and acted on opportunistically. Imagine if the restaurant had such data and could use it to optimize the schedule, fairly assign shifts, and better plan the busy summer dining season.

The important thing is to take the data that you have, make sure it is organized and clean and then start analyzing. Worry less about the amount of data you have and think more about what you can do with what you’ve got. As you start doing more analysis, albeit constrained, your organization will start to understand how much more can be learned when additional data is gathered. As your data evolves, so too will your analytics and insights. And, yes, the student got an A+ on her project.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2014 2:55 pm

    Exactly! It’s not about big data but COMPLEX DATA. Complex relationships between several dimensions (columns in your Excel).

    That’s what many scientists and organisations in general have to explore.

    I’d suggest a blog post on this matter certainly focused on scientific discovery but also applicable to other contexts:!Top-10-Capabilities-for-Exploring-Complex-Relationships-in-Data-for-Scientific-Discovery/ciyl/576148A1-8556-4D9C-A3F1-1DE377AA9BEE

    Enjoy it!


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