Simon Clayton, chief ideas officer at RefTech.
Big data: it’s a great term, but it’s being bandied about the exhibition industry like sweets at a kids’ party. It’s everywhere at the moment. I’ve been to several conferences and I read the industry press, and you can’t move for references to it.
But I can state categorically that nobody in the exhibition industry has big data. There, I’ve said it. Everyone discussing the use of Big Data within our industry is peddling a misconception.
Big data does not exist in the exhibition industry.
The definition of big data is “data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate to deal with it”. It’s data that has the 3vs: volume, velocity and variety.
Volume refers to the amount of data held. We are talking petabytes of data. A petabyte is 1000 terabytes. Two petabytes is enough to hold the entire US academic research library.
Velocity refers to the speed of data being processed. It’s often data that is collected in real-time; as it happens.
Variety refers to the number of different types of data, perhaps text, images, audio and video files. It refers to data that is stored in a variety of random ways – not a nice, simple straightforward database of neatly stored information.
Let’s get it into perspective
Google has up to 15 Exabytes of data, which is equivalent to a DVD playing for 50,000 years. This is big data.
Facebook has over 1.9 billion monthly users, the same as the Earth’s entire population in 1918. This is big data.
I’m sure there isn’t a well-designed database in the exhibition industry bigger than 20 Gigabytes. That is not big data
The term ‘big data’ is being used as a buzzword; as a hook or gimmick to get people interested in data analysis. Our industry loves buzzwords; I can’t stand them.
When industry peeps mention big data, what they are really discussing is how to use event data and urging organisers to do more with it, which I actually mostly agree with. I say ‘mostly’ because whilst I am an advocate of using data properly to better understand an event, I don’t believe in collecting and using data for the sake of it.
Organisers collect a good deal of data about exhibitions, the attendees and their preferences and behaviours. I’m an advocate of only collecting data that has meaning and that could impact your future decisions.
Think before you add another question to your registration form:
- Why are you collecting that data?
- What will it be used for and what do you get out of it?
- Are you in danger of collecting data that simply tells you what you already know but with an extra cost attached?
- Do you really need ibeacons and Bluetooth tracking to tell you where the busiest parts of an exhibition are, or could an experienced event manager tell you?
- Do you need to know that 40% of your visitors came back on a second day?
- Is knowing that a good chunk of delegates went to seminar Y after seminar X going to change the format for next year?
- What business benefit will all of this information have?
Exhibitions change year to year. Speakers and topics that hit a chord one year will probably not be so effective the next, so data gleaned post event will probably not have any bearing on next year’s event.
Don’t look for meaning in meaningless data and don’t be led on by what seems a good idea on paper. There is a huge gulf between “oh, that’s really interesting” and something that has a credible impact on a business.
The industry does need more help in analysing the data it collects. But don’t be blinded by big data.