Why Big Data Is Important for Companies Big and Small

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In October, Christopher Surdak was awarded with getAbstract’s International Book Award for his outstanding Data Crush. The Information Technology veteran has over 20 years of strategy and information management experience and currently works with Hewlett-Packard, for whom he is their global subject matter expert for analytics, E-discovery and information governance.

Big Data is a current “buzz” phrase in business, referencing the unlimited data we now have access to, thanks in large part, to the Internet and social media, which has made it effortless to capture and analyze information.

In an interview held at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2014, Christopher Surdak talks about himself and his views on big data.

getAbstract: Can you tell us a little about your background and what got you interested in data.

Christopher Surdak: I’ve seen the technology evolve over 20 something years. Not just the technology part but how it impacts society and our behavior. Seeing how this was developing about eight or nine years ago, the engineer in me saw something is changing. Something’s different this time, the Smartphones and social media. So I got very interested in where that was going to go – I started to see the legal implications and regulatory implications too.

getAbstract: What are some of the most interesting findings and stories from the book?

Christopher Surdak: There are so many! For example, if I took every minute that was spent on Facebook by global users in 2012 and monetized it at the minimum wage, it would be a half a trillion dollars. The average American spends 40 minutes a day on Facebook, only 33 minutes a day on email. The Facebook number is growing by something like 30 percent year over year, compelling stuff.

There’s also the Target story, about the pregnant teenager and her father who finds out because Target knows ahead of time and is sending baby product coupons based on the daughters purchasing patterns. That was five years ago and where we have advanced the technology in five years would blow people away. Another one is predictive crime prevention. We can literally say, with an 80 percent chance, Johnny is going to burgle in this neighborhood next Thursday between the hours of 8:00 and 10:00, and so a police officer is sent to sit there and wait for the person to show up and arrest him.

In January, Amazon publicly announced their concept of predictive shipping, whereby they will ship you stuff you didn’t order knowing that if you receive it at this price point you will not only keep it, you’re going to be happy about it, and even brag about it. It’s not enough that you keep it – you also have to be happy. This is creepy stuff and we’re getting really good at it.

getAbstract: What are some of your predictions for the future?

Christopher Surdak: To be wildly successful in the future world, there will be polarizing strategies with companies choosing either to be an absolute commodity – as cheap as possible – or rich, meaningful context which you will be willing to pay extra for. In other words, it’s Walmart versus Nordstrom. Your only survival as a small-medium player is two things: either I give my local community that rich experience because I am local or, by context, because I’m here with you. That’s it. Now, you can actually build huge competitive advantage in that local area from that but you’ve got to know what you’re dealing with. That’s what the data will tell you. For example, you care about locally produced heirloom vegetables. Now that I know that I can charge a mint for them in my local fruit and vegetable store. But I’ve got to know that first. As soon as I know that I am now in your context, in your location and we become social, which is what I call “socialfication” These are very prescriptive regardless of your size. In fact, if you’re smaller you better be doing this.

getAbstract: What else do you see happening in the world?

Cristopher Surdak: My latest shtick is that we’re building an expectation of perfection – the topic, actually, of my next two books. Expectation perfection is a remarkably complicated device. For example, the hardest thing an engineer can ever do is make the complex simple. But we expect the things he works on to function every single time. He gets no points for perfection, but when the phone/ computer/ you name it, doesn’t work? It’s minus 50,000 points and the disgruntled consumer is tweeting about it, complaining about it to his or her friends, and so forth. I’m tweeting. I’m complaining. I’m yelling. So you get no point for perfection. How did you respond when something inevitably went wrong? That’s now your new opportunity of quality to demonstrate value to customers, clients, whatever.