It seems logical that Big Data is synonymous with a large volume of data. Logical, but not necessarily true.

The confusion is understandable, though. Very little of the Big Data conversation focuses on the importance of data variety.

The three V’s of Big Data were first laid out by MIT Professors in their study, Big Data: The Management Revolution. Those V’s are volume, velocity, and variety. While the professors get a little caught up in the details of exabytes, petabytes, and quadrillion bytes, the premise is on target: variety of Big Data is more important than velocity or volume.

Your organization probably doesn’t have a large volume of data, but then most of our customers don’t. What you do have is a variety of data, and that’s enough to improve your decision making.

Don’t expect the volume discussion to fade away.

The sheer volume of data will always be part of the Big Data discussion, as well it should be. Billions and billions of devices are already connected to the Internet. The result is an immeasurable mass of data that will continue to grow. Well-managed volume is a treasure trove of insights, but volume alone can actually impair the effective use of Big Data.

Variety has always been important.

Imagine if all the data generated in the world could be viewed as a massive, ever-growing landfill. At one point in time, each unit of data had its own purpose, but now only two outcomes remain: be lost forever in the growing heap of data, or be salvaged and given a new purpose.

Success begins with the right question.

Too often, companies sift through all of the data available to them, and then ask, “What can we do with this information?” The better approach is to ask the question first: “What decisions would we make if we had the right information at our fingertips?”

Think about what you want to accomplish. Is it reducing inventory, eliminating unnecessary downtime, improving financial reporting capabilities, or determining whether it would be wiser to lease or purchase equipment. Once you prioritize your objectives, you can search through the mass of data and select what you need to accomplish your objectives.

Put data variety to the test.

Let’s assume that you are tasked with creating something of value from the heap of data; for the sake of this discussion, let’s make it a pinewood derby car. (Why not?)

When you begin to sift through the heap of data, it is unlikely that you will select 40 blocks of wood and 26 tires, just because you have that many or more at your disposal. Instead, if you are efficient, you will sort through the heap and select a variety of the most useful materials: a few solid blocks of wood, the least rusted axels, and the most well-preserved tires. Variety of materials, not volume, will help you build a race-winning pinewood derby car.

This derby car analogy of variety can be applied equally to Big Data.

It is not the ability to process and manage large data volumes that is driving successful Big Data outcomes. Rather, it is the ability to integrate more sources of data than ever before. MIT Sloan Management Review

Variety is a conversation for every business.

Many companies are challenged to understand how Big Data concerns them: “We are a small company, so we don’t generate much data; this whole Big Data discussion has nothing to do with us.”

The truth is that every business generates data – continuously. Any activity that is initiated via a computer or mobile device creates data: invoices, bank deposits, payroll, internal communications, purchasing, website maintenance, real time data, video cameras, website clicks, and the list goes on.

Every company, regardless of industry or size, has several data sources worth tapping: newly generated data, stored and forgotten legacy data, social media data, and website data, to name a few.

The variety of data has value well beyond its sources. By identifying the formats, structures, and semantics” of data, your company can further refine data that will be valuable to your business decisions. Most companies are comfortable leaving these specifics to the IT experts, but just know that you do have a sufficient and accessible variety of data to improve your business decisions.

So, what decisions would you make if you had the right information at your fingertips? A broad variety of data will help you fulfill those business objectives.