The Soft Benefit of Big Data Analytics: Thinking Differently

It’s an exciting time we live in. New markets are opening, innovative applications are reshaping the IT landscape, and social shifts are driving changes once considered unimaginable. Adapting to these transformations requires a new approach to seeing and thinking.

Investing in Big Data

Big Data AnalyticsFortunately, organizations can masterly navigate the changes transforming their markets and industries. With Big Data analytics (aka predictive or advanced analytics) software, decision makers gain, David Smith – VP of insurance solutions at Igate Patni – explains, “a powerful tool for managing the performance of the organization, both in avoiding risk and recognizing and capitalizing on opportunities.”

By identifying the patterns now shaping tomorrow’s trends – and getting rapid access to crucial real-time insights – organizations can better understand the dynamics changing their enterprises, markets, and industries.

In an InfoWorld Deep Dive report on Big Data analytics, Blue Mountain Labs Founder and CTO David S. Linthicum explains the advantages of gaining the capability to “leverage both structured and unstructured data, and visualize that data together as a single, logical set of information.” He identifies how this software can help organizations shift from traditional BI applications – which primarily show past performance – to Big Data analytics, which provide insight into what is happening right now, and what may likely occur tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.

As Linthicum notes, one of the software’s core advantages is that it enables decision makers to “imply structure at the time of analysis, and thus provide flexibility by decoupling the underlying structure from structured or unstructured physical data.” As a result, they can accurately identify and monitor their organization’s many business drivers. Perhaps more important, they can leverage this information to redirect their organizations. But getting to this level of data sophistication requires a significant change.

Identifying the Soft Benefit

Over the past year, countless experts have detailed insights similar to Linthicum’s. (Linthicum offers, however, what few others have: an 8-step plan for effectively rolling out the technology.) This advice is sound and well-informed. But most of it focuses on the hard benefits, the hard advantages that Big Data analytics can help organizations generate. Few have addressed the underlying soft benefits, which I think may show not only why companies should invest in Big Data Analytics but also why they can’t afford not to.

Simply put, Big Data analytics can change the way an organization – and therefore, its people – thinks. More than this, as Austrian Federal Government CIO Dr. Reinhard Posch suggests, organizations can only leverage this software effectively after they change how they think. How? By changing the underlying logic that organizations use to query data and analyze the results returned, the logic that also drives their operations.

Big Data analytics not only enable organizations to quickly access and track the ongoing stream of global tweets, status updates, texts, videos, and blog posts. It also empowers decision makers with the deep-dive capability they need to accurately query and analyze the opinions shared by their organization’s customers, suppliers, stakeholders, shareholders, and employees.

Accessing this body of public sentiment is one capability. Deciding how to use it is an entirely different matter, one that requires an expanded mindset that contrasts the deterministic model organizations rely on to structure and drive their operations. The new model that seems well matched to the challenge is probabilistic logic.

Making the Shift

Probabilistic logic could become instrumental in using Big Data analytics because it can help organizations leverage the probabilities of future events that the software predicts. By adopting a probabilistic mindset, organizations can gain flexibility that is not possible when using a cause-and-effect (objective logic) approach.

By gaining the capability to better consider and integrate the numerous possibilities which can occur (subjective logic), they could realize a change that CWDN’s Adrian Bridgwater suggests: Replace deterministic applications (similar to objective-oriented logic) with probabilistic applications (similar to subjective-based logic).

It’s a change that could help Western organizations better integrate within the global business environment. As researchers Oliver Bakewell and Anne Garbutt found, international non-government organizations (NGOs) felt the highly deterministic logic framework approach (LFA) prevented them from having the flexibility they needed to work within non-Western cultures and often impeded their ability to effectively plan and implement development projects.

Though the study’s participants acknowledged that deterministic logic could help them think more clearly, overall they felt the LFA prevented them from easily adapting to change, a concern that businesses worldwide are increasingly feeling as they attempt to navigate the uncertainty presently shaping markets worldwide.

And considering the level of flexibility organizations need to effectively run Big Data analytics, and then efficiently leverage the insight they gain, only an approach that based on the probabilities of possible ranges of action, instead of relying on deterministic structures for pursuing iron-clad objectives, seems most appropriate when adapting to the dynamics now driving and transforming our political, social, and economic institutions worldwide.

Many organizations may consider such a shift neither feasible nor desired. For them, there is an alternative: Recent research shows that software-based artificial neural networks can strengthen deterministic logic. But this hybrid may only provide some of the benefits and may delay the more fundamental shift that could prove – as technology becomes more innovative and the world more uncertain – inevitable.

Integrating probability into the core structure could help organizations gain the flexibility, adaptability, and capability needed to dismantle the barriers that long hindered effective knowledge transfer and management, that long prevented effective engagement with their public, but that did help businesses operate in the knowable, Western-centric global climate. But this climate is shifting, and tomorrow no longer seems as determinable as it once was.