As the CEO of two companies that are at the pinnacle of the data world, it never ceases to amaze me how companies approach, internalize, and rationalize their data—viewed as an end-point as opposed to a means to an end. What I mean by this is simple: the rationale behind terms like “big data” seems to drive many people in the wrong direction, with many focusing on an outcome light years from what is best practice, best process, and, ultimately, best desired outcome.

Like any industry, the tech sector is rife with buzzwords. After all, taking something viral and pushing the envelope to reverse the paradigm, sounds sexy, right? I have no clue what in the hell it means, but damn it sound fantastic. It’s the same as terms like “big data.” Okay, so we know it’s “big,” and we know it’s “data”…it sounds exciting…so what now?

In essence, big ideas don’t, and never should, come from big data. Big ideas should focus on an outcome that makes a product or service something spectacular. For instance, when architecting an omni-channel customer engagement solution, no one should ever start at data. It’s about understanding what the desired customer outcome should be: a magical experience that ties bricks-and-mortar, online, in-app, and more, together so that it’s seamless, rewarding, and easy for the customer. So much so, that brand, customer experience, the journey, and viral propagation, become a near religious experience. It’s the desired outcome that makes a company’s brand much greater than the sum of its parts.

Once the outcome is architected, the data comes into play. And regardless of whether it’s “big” or not, it should never be the focus. Again, data is the gasoline in the car that drives you to your destination—how much gas and the quality of the fuel is what will determine the quality of the journey.

When looking at data and how to manipulate it for the ultimate end-game, there are three main factors to consider.

First, there is the quality of the data itself and how it is interconnected with all the systems needed for access and management. Ensuring there are assets, such as verified and clean single-user-profile information, is imperative for the next two stages.

For step two, there is data automation. This sets the stage for how to use the data—in essence, creating rules and logic to deliver the desired outcome. Think of it as adding Marketo or Pardot to your existing website, CRM, and marketing infrastructure. It’s the system that captures and creates the circumstances to which content is delivered based on Boolean logic and the marketing criteria set in place. Without it, you have a bunch of names in Salesforce, but with no automated and measurable action.

Finally, there is the delivery. With all your clean data, rules, and engine in place, it’s now time for the ultimate outcome: delivering people the experience that you sought to deliver in the first place.

As an easy analogy, think of all this as your dream vacation; mine is to drive across the country. If I were to buy an RV to make the trip, I’d first make sure that the vehicle was clean, had gas, and was ready to carry me to my destination. Then, I’d ensure the engine was primed and tuned as it’s the propulsion system that will get me to where I’m going. And then, there’s the destination—your dream come true.

Remember, “big data” is just a buzzword—it’s not the final destination. That said, as you venture forth to create your customer experience, remember to enjoy the journey as much as the outcome. And, lastly, I have no analogy for the beer fridge in the RV—but a beer fridge for your development team is always appreciated. 😉