Expand Your Data Focus

Looking at the importance of external data sources.

“The outward work will never be puny if the inward work is great.”
–Meister Eckhart


Locals and Tourists #6 (GTWA #11): ChicagoLike many people in the enterprise IT world, I have spent a great deal of time looking inward with my clients. At least in my experience, the focus of most ERP and CRM projects was almost exclusively on internal enterprise data and related tools: ETL, standard reports, StoredProcs, file formats, data conversions, and the like.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Enterprise data is still incredibly important–and the era of Big Data doesn’t change that one bit. Structured and transactional information on customers, employees, products, and the like still drive countless business decisions.

At the same time, though, old habits die hard. These days, it seems as if relatively few organizations pay much attention to the data outside their walls. This is unfortunate, because there’s quite a bit of potentially valuable information just sitting out there.

External Datasets: A Big Opportunity

Forget Twitter feeds and Pinterest pins. Think about the open datasets on that sites like Amazon make available. And we’ve seen an absolute explosion in the number and types of these repositories in the last few years. More datasets become public almost daily in a veritable bouillabaisse of categories: media, geography, publications, government, life sciences, and others. It’s a point that I made recently keynoting the Optum/Humedica conference on Big Data.

Think about pulling data from LinkedIn on your employees via its API. What type of problems could that data help your organization solve? Quite a few, in my experience. For instance, not many HR departments know which skills their employees possess. I’ve personally seen companies conduct expensive searches for external candidates when perfectly viable internal ones existed–but nobody knew. Really? Walt has international experience and a degree in chemistry?

How many organizations can take a 360-degree picture of their customers?

How many organizations can take a 360-degree picture of their customers? Very few, I would imagine. Netflix is the exception that proves the rule. Maybe stitching together data and metadata from external sources doesn’t get an organization all of the way home, but clearly there’s value in looking beyond an enterprise own databases, data warehouses, and datamarts.

Simon Says: Look Outside

As APIs become more prevalent, it becomes easier for organizations to quickly access troves of data. This means less of a maintenance burden on IT. In the coming years, as data gets bigger and more open, accessing data from unconventional means will become increasingly important.

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I wrote this post as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program. It provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise, and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

Photo: Creative Commons License Eric Fischer via Compfight

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