The potential of « big data » has been receiving tremendous attention lately, and not just on HBR’s site. With interest in the topic growing exponentially, it has been the focus of countless articles and perhaps too many meetings and conferences.
But to the extent that big data will have big impact, it might not be in the classic territory addressed by analytics. Most applications of data mining and analysis have been, at their hearts, attempts to get better atprediction. Decision-makers want to understand the patterns in the past and the present in order to anticipate what is most likely to happen in the future. As big data offers unprecedented awareness of phenomena — particularly of consumers’ actions and attitudes — will we see much improvement on the predictions of previous-generation methods? Let’s look at the evidence so far, in three areas where better prediction of consumer behavior would clearly be valuable.