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Trends and Outliers

TIBCO Spotfire's Business Intelligence Blog


Using Data Visualization to Avoid a ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’

Fifty years ago, the Cuban Missile Crisis grips the nation in fear as the world teeters on the brink of a nuclear war.

Despite an influx of data and clues about the Soviets’ build-up of missiles off the coast of the United States, the founder of the analytic arm of the CIA dismisses the possibility of the Soviets amassing arms so close to American borders.

misilecrisis Promo Using Data Visualization to Avoid a Cuban Missile CrisisWhy? According to two business school professors compiling a book about instances the CIA was caught off guard, agency officials ignore the suspicious data because of the prevailing belief that the Soviet Union would never mount such a bold operation so close to the US.

In another example of a data struggle contributing to history, the authors say that researchers looking into the attack on Pearl Harbor note that the variety of data pointing to an imminent attack is “close to ideal.” However, officials are unable to obtain any actionable insight from the “noise” created by the influx of information.

One of the areas of big data analytics and data visualization that holds perhaps the greatest potential for organizations is the opportunity to identify and avoid the equivalent of a Cuban Missile Crisis before it can escalate to cause damage.

The professors suggest that you ask these questions to ensure that big data is being used effectively in your organization:

  • Do you develop opinions and hypotheses about your industry that are then internalized in the company culture? If yes, be sure that you regularly question them and the assumptions that led to their formation.
  • Do you ask your advisers and employees to produce questions rather than answers?
  • Do you consume big data with an eye toward identifying challenges to your hypotheses rather than simply confirming them?
  • Is big data one among multiple sources that you use to drive decisions in your company? Do you pay close attention to those who challenge hypotheses?
  • Do you have processes in place that require the investigation of big data anomalies when they surface?

All of these questions focus on the critical human factor that’s required to fully tap the power of big data. Harvard Business Review echoes this notion, pointing out that software is only a portion of the human-based data management effort associated with big data.

To ensure that the human component is not overlooked in a big data project, HBR suggests organizations:

Understand that technological tools are superseded by human experts. “Consider how we talk about big data,” the article notes. “We forget that it is not about the data; it is about our customers having a deep, engaging, insightful, meaningful conversation with us – if we only learn how to listen.”

Learn how to effectively display and present information. For example, the article points out that Edward Tufte, a former Yale professor and expert on visual design, suggests organizations use data visualization and illustrations to present data most effectively.

When examined closely, every data point has value,” the article notes. “And when seen overall, trends and patterns can be observed via the human ‘intuition’ that comes from that biological information processing capability of our brain.”

Companies that doubt the danger in not preparing for their own versions of the Cuban Missile Crisis should take note of a recent survey that indicates that two-thirds of companies in the United Kingdom alone are on the wrong side of the data divide. The data divide is the gap between companies that are able to collect and analyze massive amounts of historical and real-time data from multiple sources and make real-time operational adjustments – and those that can’t.

The research, done by Vansom Bourne on behalf of TIBCO, finds that 21% of CIOs at French, German and UK companies expect that not being able to identify potential opportunities to make such real-time adjustments will have a “catastrophic impact” on their businesses in the future, while 36% report that lacking that ability will have a moderate impact on business operations.

Next Steps:

  • Subscribe to our blog to stay up to date on the latest insights and trends in data visualization and big data analytics.
  • Please join us on Thursday, November 15th at 11 a.m. EST for our complimentary webcast, “Structured + Unstructured Data: Creating Greater Value with Big Data Variety,” presented by Syed Mahmood, Sr. Product Marketing Mgr, TIBCO Spotfire; Rik Tamm-Daniels, VP Technology, Attivio; Parul Sharma, Solutions Mgr, 3K Technologies. In this webcast, Syed Mahmood of TIBCO Spotfire and Rik Tamm-Daniels of Attivio will discuss data source trends and how enterprises can leverage non-conventional data sources to uncover deeper insights. Then, Parul Sharma, Solutions Manager of 3K Technologies, will demonstrate how the Spotfire analytics platform and Attivio’s Active Intelligence Engine (AIE) can be used to extract valuable insights by combining structured and unstructured data.


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