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Big Data – which is good, which is not?

I saw this quote recently and think it’s dead on: “‘Big data’ is what happens when the cost of storing information gets less than the cost of throwing it away.” – George Dyson at Long Now

This is SO true. Far too many of my clients are hoarding data, not because they are hoarders, but because it is so much easier and cheaper to keep data than to purge it.

This creates a challenge when it comes to analyzing data. My clients have a sense of “information overload” and are generally timid about analyzing data, because there is so much of it.

But part of analyzing data is identifying the data that is NOT useful for analysis. Others will disagree, but among my rules of thumb are that sales data over three years old is relatively useless, as is other engagement data (e.g., committee service, awards) over three years old. Sure, an argument can be made for exceptions, but speaking generally, data this old tends to have diminishing returns.

So if you’re having trouble deciding which data to analyze, start by eliminating the data you don’t need to analyze. That may make the challenge much simpler to attack.

About author:
  • That quote about Big Data is so true. I love it. The other interesting aspect of Big Data is that while our capacity to store it has grown exponentially, our capacity to process it into meaningful Business Intelligence has not caught up yet. It takes an incredible amount of processing power to crunch through these gigantic data sets. The big players – like Google Analytics – literally have warehouses full of servers churning through this data 24 hours to create at-a-glance dashboards of the most relevant info. We smaller fish don’t have quite this many resources at our disposal, so it it takes a lot more effort to produce these large reports. One good solution that makes everyone happy: we’re putting code in place to take advantage of Google Analytics’ event tracking on key searches and transactions, so they can do the processing for us.

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“Wes was able to come in and offer tangible, relevant advice that made us more productive immediately. I value his understanding of databases but more so, his understanding of how nonprofits work. There was no lost time educating him about how membership organizations are “different.” Wes recommended changes in processes as well as tips and tricks that were easy to implement made an immediate positive impact.”

Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
International Registration Plan

“We came to Wes because we were very frustrated with our existing AMS and we wanted to improve our capabilities as soon as practicable. Wes very quickly helped us through a process of identifying our needs, identifying potential vendors, and selecting a new system that we’ll be able to move into very quickly. I especially appreciated Wes’s candor about our processes as well as the systems we were looking at. He was a great resource to have in a period of high anxiety for our organization. I would highly recommend Wes for any similar project.”

Jack Chiasson, CMP Executive Director
National Association of Life Brokerage Agencies

“Wes was able to come in and offer tangible, relevant advice that made us more productive immediately. I value his understanding of databases but more so, his understanding of how nonprofits work. There was no lost time educating him about how membership organizations are “different.” Wes recommended changes in processes as well as tips and tricks that were easy to implement made an immediate positive impact.”

Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
International Registration Plan

Mary Pat Paris
International Registration Plan

“This is the second database implementation we’ve done since I have been at Western Arts Alliance (WAA). The first I did on my own. This time we engaged Wes Trochlil as our database planning consultant. Let me tell you, this process is a whole lot easier having Wes on your team! For a small association like WAA, it’s tempting for board and EDs to question the justification and expense of a database planning consultant. But it’s the small associations that need Effective Database Management the most. Wes strengthened our planning process, clarified our needs requirements, helped us steer around solutions that couldn’t meet our objectives, and saved us money in the long haul.”

Tim Wilson, Executive Director
Western Arts Alliance

Tim Wilson
Western Arts Alliance
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