innovation | November 08, 2012

Innovation Speaker Douglas Merrill: Using Big Data To Win In Business

"Big data isn't new," innovation speaker Douglas Merrill writes in the Harvard Business Review, "A wealth of database information has been lying dormant in companies for years — only now we have the technology to understand it." Further, he explains that: "you can use that information to make better predictions (and decisions) about your business."

Big data, he writes in the article, is made up of cases and signals. Cases refer to an interaction of some kind, generally a sale. However, Merrill suggests that the best way to capitalize on all of this newly accessible data is focus on signals instead of just cases. A signal in the credit industry, for example, would be the potential loaner's access to excess income, which could then be used as part of the decision-making process regarding whether to give that person a loan (which would be the case, in this instance.) In retail, examples of a signal could include how the customer paid for an item (debit, credit, or cash) and what that says about a customer's habits. Merrill suggests, however, taking the signals one step further to include how often the customer paid with a certain method, whether they used the store's "bonus" card and how many items they purchased with each transaction.

The more signals you use the better, Merrill advises, because they help provide companies with a more thorough understanding of their customer than the industry standard. "As we used to say at Google (where Merrill was formerly the Chief Information Officer): 'Opinions are great, data is better.'" Including more signals in your company's database, he writes, can help you understand what your customer is already doing, and use the data to make new realizations about where to go in the future. Now the founder of, the innovation speaker is well-versed in creative business solutions and adaptation. In his talks, he explains not just why you should care about being innovative, but how you can build a sustainable culture of innovation in your workplace.

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social change | November 07, 2012