Information. It’s what we all want, and it seems some people will do just about anything to get it. (If you doubt me, just ask Number 6 from The Prisoner. Yes, the Patrick McGoohan original. Don’t bother asking Jim Caviezel.) For more than a decade—probably far longer, but I’m only considering the modern era of CRM—businesses have built their strategies around collecting customer data. CRM systems and related technologies are the repositories of countless terabytes of this information.
Sadly, all that information has spent most of its life silent and useless, packed away in the electronic equivalent of the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. All the potential value of that data is lost to time, slowly aging away to irrelevance. If a metric falls in the forest but nobody uses it, does it make a difference?
That’s what I was thinking about during a recent presentation by Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research, when I should have been taking in more of the data he was spewing. To be honest, it’s possible I stole that “if a metric falls in a forest” line from him. Ray’s specialty used to be (and probably still is) customer data hubs, and he’s a friend, so I hope he won’t mind too much.
Think technology can make this problem go away? Hardly: Social media, speech analytics, and other relatively new applications have increased the corporate appetite for data exponentially. Worse, storage now often requires more space, not less. Today’s data—such as social interactions and voice recordings—is increasingly unstructured, which tends not to fit neatly into tables and arrays.
In other words, ever-more storage capacity is wasted holding ever-more data that businesses use ever-more infrequently—or worse, ever-more poorly. Why spend the effort and electricity? If a company merely banishes its data to an untapped archive, wouldn’t it be better not to collect it at all?
Just in case the business world decides to agree with me—stranger things have happened—I thought I might propose some alternatives for all that wasted space:
Corporate Porn Archive: Chances are pretty good that your employees are looking at things they oughtn’t on company time anyway. Why not amend your policies and make it a perk? The really outré stuff can be used for blackmail if necessary.
Multiplayer Computer Games: Today’s top entertainment titles eat up tons of disk space. Installing the latest real-time strategy and first-person shooter games will build corporate morale and facilitate teamwork. Also, there are professional gaming leagues now, so if your people are any good they might be able to get you some free publicity and/or a secondary revenue stream.
Distributed Computing: A number of research programs, such as the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence organization, use distributed grid computing to increase their number-crunching capabilities without adding great expense. Sharing your storage in this manner might be good for a tax deduction, and you can be part of the team that proves those abduction-and-probing stories in the National Enquirer are true after all.
Or maybe there’s a better way. As it stands, the only people who benefit from the Great Data ’Splosion are makers of storage media. So why should we let them get fat off of our bass-ackwards business processes? I call for a revolution! Start using the data you collect. Invest in some high-quality analytics applications—they’re not just for analysts anymore. Keep records only of the things you’re going to use, and make sure you use them. If you can get double duty from your collected information by sharing it, by all means do so. Make the storage fat cats earn their money.
But if you do, it’s probably best you don’t mention the gaming or the porn to your employees. They can’t always see the big picture.
Marshall Lager is the managing principal of Third Idea Consulting. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via http:/www.twitter.com/Lager. He promises not to bother collecting any information about you unless it looks juicy and/or useful.