Data, data everywhere, but nothing worth a drink

“And the winner is… no one.” That was the result for the top prize at this year’s Nexus Awards after the judges scratched their data-weary heads and decided New Zealand’s best data work wasn’t good enough to justify the big prize. There was lots of talk about standards to maintain and excellence required and all the rest of it. But the bottom line is: we went backwards. We all got together to celebrate the best data thinking of 2011 and our standout result was “please try harder”.

But the interesting thing is, in between the usual nerd gags and the perennial question of why the ‘real marketing awards’ are interrupted by anorak prizes, no-one seemed to notice. I think it’s something worth looking at. And even though my thing is really the words (and I can’t even spell SQL), here’s my five cents as to why data took a dive in 2011.

There’s too much data

Suddenly we’ve got check-in data, check out data, social data, search data, transactions up the ying yang and cookies being crunched every which way. Could it be that this extreme proliferation of countable stuff has the data bods confused?

There’s no money in data

Everyone still has belts notched tight and serious number crunching costs money. Have the sexier data projects been shelved for rosier times? This is quite possible—and even likely. But it begs some worrying questions about relevance and response.

Data does not compute

Have legacy systems finally caught up with us? Have we arrived at the place where we keep a note of everything, but learn nothing much? If we can’t find a way to mine what we know and dig up some nuggets, there’s nothing we can polish into gold.

Social is sexier

Perhaps we’ve lost our way careering after the shiny and new? And when there’s easy column inches to be earned by being “first” in the latest social buzz, who can blame anyone for choosing that instead of a good old dig in the data?

Next year will blow our minds

This is the glass half-full option—and it’s the one I like to believe in. Maybe there was nothing ‘Supreme’ this year because everyone has their heads down crunching the next big thing. Those seriously smart data projects take a wee while in the oven, so maybe next year will change the game.

Whatever the reason, we’ve got to get things fixed up. Data is mainstream now. Just last Sunday I opened the paper to a story about a pregnant teen who was outed by Target because she was sent a deal for nappies when her buying habits changed. Datasift in the UK just won a contract with Twitter to sift, sort and dissect five years of tweets. And McKinsey’s have been going on about Big Data for years.

Everyone is doing it. And we should be leading the pack. New Zealand’s economic growth depends on us exporting our intelligence. And the people who work with data are some of the smartest people we have. So come on data guys, get it together: your country needs you.

  • Michael Goldthorpe is an independent marketer who writes and thinks for some of New Zealand’s leading organisations. You can find more of his opinions at strawpollofone.com

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