Big Data?

July 24, 2013

 “Big data” seems to be the latest flavor of the month concept. We hear it used in context of the NSA, Obama Care, and cloud computing (which is not really done in the cloud, but in places like Utah and Norway).

The question is “does Big Data have anything to do with competitive intelligence?” Yes, but probably not in the way that you think. CI is certainly the beneficiary of the improving ability to collect and process more raw data. But, unless you are an arm of government, the data your firm usually processes is your own. That means, for most businesses it is inward, not outward looking.

CI is outward looking. That is not to say that the data that you need is not within your company – quite often it is. But is unlikely to be a part of its Big Data operations. Those typically deal with finance and production issues.

But Big Data has an impact on CI in indirect ways.

First, as companies can find out more and more about their internal activities at a greater level of detail, they have a tendency to expect that the competitive intelligence operations will be able to produce such detail. That is not likely since the number of people who have access to that detail at a competitor is limited, assuming the competitor has even bothered to generate that kind of data.

A second impact is that people increasingly believe that, somehow, CI can be conducted by computers, just by applying greater and greater computing power. Until computers are able to draw inferences from incomplete data, which they cannot do now, they will be of little impact to CI, other than to speed up and expand the amount of data that is collected. This is not always a good thing. More data means more time and effort spent processing it and a greater likelihood that the data contains within it increasing amounts of noise. That means time and effort wasted.

Competitive intelligence’s strength has always been in the analysis, not in the data collection. The world of Big Data does not provide CI with any help there; if anything, it hinders CI.

2 Comments on “Big Data?”

  1. CI as based on WWII/Cold-War intelligence analysis methodologies will not benefit much from big data. Unlike intel analysis in the national/military realm, CI simply has not adapted to the 21st century. The greatest source of big data is the internet, and harvesting external data is not a problem. There are very cool things that are being done to support strategic analysis with “big data” – there just isn’t the money in the CI world pay for it. A single data-scientist’s annual salary is probably larger than the annual budget for the average corporate CI program.


  2. […] Big data? July 24. John McGonagle. […]

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