The concept of using Big Data to pursue marginal gains within an organisation might seem rather underwhelming; surely the prospect of a holistic customer view, real-time offers and recommendations, rapid identification of fraudulent activity, or preventative maintenance on expensive capital assets are potential game changers and disrupters.
As the sporting world has discovered over the last decade, however, the pursuit of marginal gains across the many component parts of an operation is a powerful driver for success, and a model that organisations should seek to emulate.
The outcome of pursuing small improvements across every aspect of high-performance sport is now well documented, from cycling to soccer, and from rowing to rugby.
The principles have been applied to the equipment used, to the physiology and biomechanics of the athletes, to team coordination, to meticulous strategic planning, and to many other aspects of performance.
In each case, data is fundamental to the methodology, creating the feedback loop that indicates the impact of each small change on each component part of each process.
This is the reality of the era of big data-driven analytics that organisations of all sizes and types now have available to them.
Data can and should be applied to every component of every process to pursue those marginal gains - improvements that add up to superior performance and a competitive advantage.
It requires a methodical approach, a well-developed capability to turn data into insight built on solid technology foundations, and a business mind-set of willingness to get immersed in the detail.
Organisations are making progress across all of those dimensions, but should aim to be more systematic in their application of data, rather than searching for extraordinary outcomes that may be overambitious to achieve.
The sports world has shown that getting hundreds of little things right contributes to significant change in overall performance, and with the requisite data and tools now becoming more widely available - and more usable - the philosophy of marginal gains, driven by data, should become a standard part of the management toolkit.
By Tim Jennings - Research Analyst, Ovum