When it comes to overcoming obstacles, it's all about perspective and attitude. But, for many companies, Big Data often seems too daunting to surmount. With so much customer information flowing into any given organization, companies are overwhelmed by both the wealth of insight and the competitive market. Yet, while Big Data has become the buzzword of the moment, garnering the interest of sales, marketing, and IT professionals alike, most are doing just that—talking, not doing. In many instances, companies aren't even sure where to begin.

"Everyone talks about it and very few people really know how to do it, but everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they're doing it," says Michael DeLeonardis, vice president, insights and benchmarking for Xactly. "Companies need to take a step back and determine what they're trying to achieve with Big Data and how they can realistically get there. The concept can be so daunting that many companies are biting off more than they can chew. With Big Data projects, it's important to start with achievable goals that can result in early wins, and then build on those successes. Many start, hit roadblocks, and then are at a standstill on where to go next." 


Ultimately, Big Data's name may be the most problematic trigger, for "big" can cloud perception, leading companies to believe that this onslaught of customer information was huge and sudden. But, as Matti Aksela, vice president, analytics at Comptel, emphasizes, Big Data is just a new term for something that has been happening for years. "The growth in data volumes, as well as data generation speed, was around long before anyone coined the term," he says. "And over time, we will continue to see data volumes dwarf what we have now." 

Doug Heise, product marketing director at CoreMedia, believes that the term itself will fade away, allowing companies to focus on breaking high volumes of data in more manageable, solvable problems. Because companies have already gathered years of valuable data, they must first take stock of what they have so they may develop strategies that improve collection and analysis. The hype will fade and companies will finally get down to business, Heise notes. Companies will also come to realize that, despite the influx of information, the greatest, most powerful insights will derive from a relatively small subset of data. Thus, companies must prioritize identifying the most useful data sets over collecting every byte that flows into the organization in order to generate value.

Yet, no matter how frequently one discusses Big Data, the term still instills fear of the unknown despite the fact that, historically, progress requires companies and individuals to venture where they've never been before. One need only look to the evolution of entertainment technologies to understand that what was once new and expensive will inevitably become commonplace and affordable.

When CD players first arrived on the scene, the groundbreaking technology was far pricier than their cassette tape counterpart, and when DVD players began to gain traction, only the wealthy were able to adopt the technology immediately. But, in both cases, the technology inevitably became an integral part of the entertainment industry, decreasing in price and gaining in proliferation. In terms of data analytics, large companies may have been the first to adopt the tools necessary for Big Data success, but as the need for such solutions increases, demand will drive prices down, enabling smaller companies to integrate systems for advanced analysis. However, this will not diminish the inherent challenges that will arise.

"The biggest obstacle to developing analytical capabilities within customer-facing organizations is two-fold," says Marco Pacelli, CEO of ClickFox. "Most big companies have measures in place to ensure that each department is successful, but many lack the incentive to improve processes across departments. Companies also face the technical limitations of integrating data holistically across systems. Tackling both issues at the same time is critical, but it's no easy task."

While businesses across industries will continue to struggle with departmental silos within their organizations, they must also work to maintain customer relationships in an increasingly open world. As Mark Ledbetter, global vice president, retail strategy for SAP, highlights, the more companies know about their customers, the better able they are to serve. However, these businesses must also present a value proposition for the customer that doesn't fall into the "creepy" category. When it comes to Big Data, companies can often become consumed by the pursuit of information, ultimately neglecting the customer experience. Consumers need to feel comfortable when offering personal information, hence why all attempts to collect data must ensure privacy to prevent them from overstepping any boundaries.

Lessons Learned from L'Oreal USA's "Voice of Beauty" Initiative

Those interested in or involved with the cosmetics and beauty industry will agree that any such fashion category generates vast amounts of feedback and data. Consumers are consistently vocal about their likes and dislikes, sharing opinions across social media platforms. For L'Oreal USA, such data presented great opportunities to glean insight into what products were most popular, which goods failed to measure up, and what items consumers might like to see on store shelves.

By employing Clarabridge's sentiment and text analytics solutions, L'Oreal USA implemented its initiative to manage social media data and gain insight into what its customers are thinking and feeling. Known as "The Voice of Beauty" mission, L'Oreal USA's internal team of analysts works to build sustainable relationships with its consumers by monitoring the buzz for its 27 brands in real time across numerous social media listening posts. From website and product reviews, to Twitter and Facebook, Clarabridge's solution allows the health and beauty brand to efficiently and accurately analyze incoming data, enabling analysts to collect, cleanse, classify, and understand sentiment across networks in real time.

Since embracing the tools necessary to analyze this influx of data, L'Oreal USA can now track the interests of its 2.1 million Facebook fans and 125,000 Twitter followers in real time, picking up on issues or concerns that arise through the automated process of identifying actionable customer comments that may require further analysis or monitoring. These comments are then flagged and forwarded to L'Oreal USA's "Voice of Beauty" Command Center so the appropriate team member may engage and interact with the customer, if necessary, in order to rectify any problem they may have. The company also employs customized dashboards in order to keep the entire group in the loop, emphasizing the importance of this feedback at all levels across the organization as the company works to boost brand awareness and leverage customer loyalty.