Calling a spade a xxxx shovel

"Big data" may be the munificent resource in this new age of data mining. But it's not shovelling this mass of information that firms need, but refining it into content that is pure gold.

What bronze was to the Bronze Age and steam was to the Industrial Revolution, data is the raw material of our age. Mountains of it, oceans of it, a seemingly limitless supply that can be turned into, into er, into what exactly?

A survey claims the to ten benefits of “Big Data” include improved:

  1. Decision making
  2. Collaboration and Information sharing
  3. Productivity
  4. Agility
  5. Reliability and security
  6. Customer satisfaction and retention
  7. Operational costs
  8. Risk management
  9. Revenue
  10. Employee retention and morale

Perhaps it should be renamed “data alchemy” for the claims made for it that it will convert raw data from “base metal into gold”!

[However, one can’t help noticing that “revenue” is way down the list and that “customer satisfaction and retention” (to which revenue is inseparably connected) only makes the bottom half of the list.]


It is claimed that in gold rushes, like that in the Klondike that turned men’s minds in the final years of the nineteenth century, it was not the bearded prospectors staking their claims and endlessly and panning, who made the money. Some say it was the guys who sold them the shovels. But was it?

Who, in the “data rush” is going to benefit most? Those who collect the data or those who mine with the modern equivalent of shovels – the algorithms? Or will it be those who interpret data to make decisions?

Golden nuggets

Let us extrapolate. The data is mined. The “geeks” apply their algorithmic magic sorting the dross from the gold-bearing ore. But even golden nuggets are not as valuable in the icy wastes of the Yukon as when they been refined, transported and minted into coinage or crafted into jewellery.

A similar and allied debate is raging in the world of information and content. Information too is a raw material. There is any amount of it and most of it is dross. But refined and polished information is transformed into engaging and effective content. And, like gold, it is rare; gold standard content is very rare indeed!

It is only through the processes of refinement when information is analysed, interpreted and written that it becomes valuable content: content that can be used by decision makers in the form of case studies, research reports, printed and digital magazines and newsletters, blogs, thought leadership papers and other customer communications.

Krugerrands and wedding rings are the value added products of mining. Decisions, like marketing strategies and communications made with content are the end product of mining and refining information.

The refinement of information by writing it into measurable, consistent, diverse and engaging content can achieve the stated objectives of big data namely, the collaboration, productivity, agility data promotes through information sharing; the lower cost and reduced risk that enhance customer and employee satisfaction. But content may recalibrate the list to put retention is increased revenue and profitability at the top.

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