Dean Barber

Archive for November, 2012|Monthly archive page

Only Remembered

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2012 at 10:17 am

The literature of business, which I am engaged in by virtue of this blog, focuses almost entirely on things such as goals, planning, risk management and the like. By its very nature, business is predominately a forward looking affair, developing and assessing strategies on how to prevail or at least survive in a competitive marketplace.

But sometimes, I think it behooves us to look back and see where we have come from, and what we have (and have lost) and, yes, give thanks.  I doubt that gratitude or the giving of thanks is covered much at all in business schools, but maybe it should be.

This time of year — regardless of our cultural/religious/ethnic background or persuasion — we pause for a moment from our increasingly hurried lives to reflect upon the more important things in life, which should go beyond whether a branding campaign is taking root in Philadelphia or Fiji.

While I aspire for my consulting business to grow, I give thanks for growing up in a stable, loving home in which I had two parents who sacrificed so much in order that I might become the first person in our family to go to college.

Approaching Geezerdom

They sat in the grandstands of Camp Randall Stadium at the University of Wisconsin , with so many other proud parents, to watch their boy go through the ritual of getting his diploma. That was back in 1978. Both my parents have since passed onto that other shore, and I while I am not yet an old man, I’m certainly no longer a young man, a fact that my younger wife will occasionally remind me of.

But I also give thanks to her, for sticking by me through all the tumult that comes with a life. To suggest that I have been on a straight incline in my career aspirations would be a lie. Life throws you curves and still, she has stuck by me, believing in me. My wife, Tera, is why I do what I do today, why I get out of bed.  She is my reason.

Finally, and this may turn some of you off, but I give thanks to my Lord, my creator, and who I just happen to believe watches over me. Things have happened, have worked out, which I can only interpret as intervention from or at least a nudging by God. He gives me great solace, by simply knowing that He is there. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for His watchful presence.

My fears are always calmed by a simple reading of Psalms, which reminds me that He is in my corner. If you find peace in the Koran, or the Tanakh or the Bhagavad Gita, I won’t begrudge you.

Not So Startling Research Reveals

After exhaustive research, Richard Layard, who founded Europe’s leading economics research center at the London School of Economics, comes to this conclusion, which may not be so startling but bears repeating:

“People are happier if they are compassionate; they are happier if they are thankful for what they have. When life gets rough, these qualities become ever more important.”

In April of this year, the United Nations actually held a summit titled “Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.” Those attending held to the belief that measuring Gross Domestic Product doesn’t go far enough in explaining the metrics of an economy or the well being of a nation.

At the conference, the prime minister of Bhutan spoke about his country’s commitment to Gross National  Happiness. Now, I know what you are thinking, because it was my initial thought: How silly is that? And where in the hell is Bhutan?

Despite my best efforts, sometimes I get these rather intolerant  and sometimes even mean-spirited views about other cultures bubbling up.  No little pissant country (a phrase coined by LBJ in describing Vietnam) on the other side of the world is going to tell me, a proud Texan, how to be happy.

I will tell you right now, folks, that my initial way of thinking is a dumb way of thinking. We can learn from other people even if they speak in a foreign tongue and don’t look like us.


It turns out that this idea of GNH was an outgrowth of the Buddhist philosophy that had long guided Bhutan, which by the way is a landlocked country in South Asia located at the eastern end of the Himalayas. It is bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. (Your geography lesson for the day.)

In today’s fashionable business parlance, Bhutan’s take on the world would be called “sustainable growth.” The idea is to not grow too fast, to not grow the economy at the expense of the well-being of the people or the environment. To maintain leadership that can be trusted. (With approval ratings of Congress at historic lows, here’s is one we could probably work on.) To respect and celebrate your cultural heritage rather than be swallowed up by the sometimes menacing forces of globalization.

Now, myriad studies are showing little ol’ Bhutan might be on to something: that working together in community toward shared goals, living a balanced, healthy life that involves time for interaction with each other, time and again trumps making piles of cash. Apparently, Bhutan was sustainable before sustainable was cool.

Never mind that millions of Americans will continue to play and dream of winning the lottery, thinking that is their path toward happiness.  Lottery officials said no one won the estimated $325 million Powerball jackpot Saturday night, setting up the possibility of a record $425 million winner Wednesday night. The jackpot is the fourth largest in the game’s history.

The Price of Joy

But when your basic needs are covered, you have to wonder, at least I do, if more money and more stuff will actually bring you happiness.  Of course, this message might understandably ring hollow for the millions of Americans who are unemployed and/or facing a debt-ridden, uncertain future. Money would go along ways to solving their problems and frankly putting them on the Happy Trail. I get that.

Going back to our Thanksgiving theme, I am thankful that I have the means to pay for good food and shelter, something that cannot be taken for granted all over this world of ours. Having clean and safe drinking water is a luxury in some places, much less having enough food. Why are some exposed to and suffer from seemingly preventable tropical diseases and not me?

As a nation, we may be up to our eyeballs in debt, facing tough challenges ahead on all sorts of levels in our ability to compete with the rest of the world. But still I must count my blessings that I can at least become depressed by watching the news on my 42-inch flat screen TV after getting off my laptop or my tablet or my smart phone after chowing down on delivered pizza or Chinese food.

There is no question in my mind that I am hooked on the material things of life, thinking that I must have these things in order to be happy. But it’s a fool’s errand to believe for a moment, that as a musician (my principle hobby) that I might actually need five banjos, four guitars and two fiddles.

If I Am to Be Remembered

Mind you, I don’t feel ashamed or am burdened with guilt that I am not living a hard scrabble life. But I do take note of it and feel compassion, rather than blame, for those who suffer.  The way I see it, touching lives and leaving a positive mark in this world, other than accumulation of wealth, might be the only way that I will ever be remembered, if I am to be remembered.

It wasn’t the big houses or the luxury automobiles or the RVs that I remember about my parents, it was their love for me, pure and simple. I was so blessed in that regard.

So I guess the point of this blog is that you should take stock in what you have, now, today, and not take it for granted. Maybe it’s only your health, but that is something to cherish while you have it.

As I believe in capitalism and this sometimes fleeting thing we call the American Dream,  I certainly will not tell you that your business and financial affairs and aspirations are not important. Of course, they are important. It’s how you feed your family, and keep the lights on and educate your kids.

But I am saying there is more to life than the accumulation of wealth. I think most Americans sense this just as much as folks in Bhutan. And in this holiday season, I think it is worthy to reflect that while we cannot take money and things with us to the grave, we can give thanks by bounties, big and small, offered to us while we are here in this broken world.

And we can offer love and compassion to others, especially to those who are hurting. We will only be remembered for what we have done.

Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at Please visit our website at



The Journey of a Hungry Caterpillar

In Uncategorized on November 18, 2012 at 7:01 am

As a business consultant, a site selection consultant, I do my best to not allow my emotions or personal biases rule, knowing full well that there is always an emotional aspect to decision making.

And while I may consider myself a Southerner, and now a Nuevo Texan, for reasons of credibility, I cannot afford to be a homer for any particular place or region. Indeed, if I am serving a corporate client to the best of my abilities, I should be prepared and open to the idea of assisting a company locate and start operations from Maine to California, from Canada to Mexico.

My motto is that I will take a company to where it needs to be and that means playing no personal favorites.

Unlike real estate brokers, most of whom do not think in terms of a comprehensive site selection process, I offer my services for a flat fee. I want no nagging perception that I might be channeling a client to a particular place, building or site, where I might make more money via commission. Homey don’t play that game.

And while I cannot and will not play favorites in my consulting capacity, that is not to say that I do not come upon places, communities, that I naturally like.  Such is the case with Pittsburgh. I suspect that it’s my background, the fact that I grew up in a manufacturing family and that my father was from Pittsburgh that I feel a certain affinity for the city, even though I never lived there.

Images of Rocky

Pittsburgh reminds me of Rocky Bleier, who as an infantry grunt in Vietnam was shot in the left thigh and took grenade shrapnel in his right lower leg, only to subsequently become a highly effective running back with the championship Steelers and wear four NFL Super Bowl rings.

By the same analogy, Pittsburgh had its entire leg blown off with the collapse of Big Steel in the 1980s, but like Rocky, the city refused to be beaten. In short, Pittsburgh and the surrounding area had to endure a lot of pain to come back.

But taking away for a moment any personal biases, Pittsburgh truly has transformed itself from an almost total reliance on heavy industry to a more interesting place where universities, finance, health-care, energy, and even the movie industry is making a mark.

But manufacturing never died here. Far from it. There remains 3,000 advanced manufacturing firms in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. U.S. Steel is spending between $500 million to $600 million to modify and modernize its Clairton Coke Works, whereas Allegheny Technologies is spending $1.5 billion in expanding its Brackenridge steel plant.

And it’s that manufacturing tradition that still provides a backdrop in attitude and work ethic. Things get done here.

Background: I was in Pittsburgh earlier this week as the guest of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. The PRA brought in a group of eight of us, a mix of site selection consultants and real estate investors, as they wanted us to see how things have changed. I do not and will not make a practice of writing a blog about every place that I visit, but sometimes a story is just worth telling.

Hip and Googly

So I am standing in the corporate headquarters of American Eagle Outfitters on what is becoming the entertainment district of the Pittsburgh’s South Side, located along the Monongahela River an across from the downtown. CEO Robert Hanson is an obvious hipster, even if he is an adroit businessman with ambitious plans to grow his teen retailing company with a 1,000 stores and presence in 77 countries.

Hanson does not look or talk like a senior executive of Alcoa or US Steel, two stalwarts of the Pittsburgh manufacturing tradition. Rather, here is a jean-wearing executive who you sense is perfectly comfortable in the arts scene in San Francisco or New York or even Paris, talking to us about the growing cultural offerings of Pittsburgh.

Next stop is Google at Bakery Square, where they have chicken coops on the roof of a former Nabisco bakery, minus the chickens, because the company has not yet gotten city approval. I would be more impressed with goats, but chickens are probably more manageable. The idea, of course, is to serve fresh eggs to the Googlers in the building.

They are a young crowd, working on some of Google’s most important engineering initiatives, from Shopping to Search to Android.  And when they are not working, the theory is that they are thinking about work when they are getting back massages, playing pool, playing tunes in the music room, or chilling in the library or multiple kitchens. Well-behaved dogs wander about.

Google’s motto: “Do cool things that matter,” and that is quite in evidence here in a location that is only eight driving minutes from Carnegie Mellon University. The university has resided in Google’s inner circle of influence ever since the company initially opened an engineering lab on campus in 2005. It moved to Bakery Square in 2010.

The Worm Turns

The way I see it, if Pittsburgh, once one of the oldest cities in America in terms of demographics and now a place where young people appear to be flocking in greater numbers, can be Googly, well, then you know that it must be a sign from Heaven Above. I can most assuredly proclaim that Pittsburgh is now cool.  Now who would have thought that?

“There is a metamorphosis taking place in Pittsburgh,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. “We were that hungry caterpillar for the last 15 or 20 years and now we are a pretty powerful butterfly.”

Civic leadership, a cooperative spirit between government and business, a welcoming attitude toward diversity and the natural resources have turned a dark and dreary place, almost eastern European city, into a vibrant “New Pittsburgh,” where young people walk, bike and skateboard to work in distinct neighborhoods featuring libraries, museums and restaurants. Never mind there are 36 colleges and universities in the region, serving as a youth magnet.

Game Changer in the Works

Probably the biggest and most exciting thing on the horizon, and which truly bodes well for the Pittsburgh and the surrounding region’s future is on the energy front. It is here where the Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale plays are serving as their own industry magnet. Now energy companies, many of which are headquartered in Texas, are opening offices in Pittsburgh to serve as the base operations for what promises to be a game changer to the local economy.

The biggest piece in the ever expanding puzzle has yet to be announced, but everyone knows that it is out there and everyone is waiting in anticipation. It is the prospect that Shell Oil Co. will build a $2.5 billion ethane cracker plant above the Marcellus Shale in Beaver County. Shell announced in March, after months of competition with Ohio and West Virginia, that Pennsylvania was its preferred site for the petrochemical facility.

The company has signed a land-option agreement for former Horsehead zinc smelter site. While the announcement was heralded as a coup, the project has not been finalized. I can tell you with some authority that Shell execs were back in Pittsburgh earlier this week for talks, however, a decision on whether this is a go or no go proposition has not been announced.

If Shell does go forward with the project, it will be a seminal moment in drilling development for the Marcellus Shale and the economy of southwestern Pennsylvania, as spinoff facilities will surely result. The total economic output for the proposed Shell cracker plant is expected to be $4.8 billion per year and could result in 8,000 new jobs, according to a recent analysis by the Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh.

In short, this would be the single biggest industrial project to come down the pike in the Pittsburgh area’s long and storied industrial history. And that is saying something.

I Never Met a Town …

So I’ll admit it, I am pulling for Pittsburgh. While I must wear the impartial referee’s hat during the site selection process for reasons of credibility, I can nonetheless root for communities to grow and prosper.

Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn’t like. Well, I have never met a town that I didn’t want to see grow, prosper and achieve the dreams for the next generations to come.

I think Pittsburgh, once battered and bruised but always looking forward, is on the verge of achieving those dreams.

So for those of you in Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Houston, Nashville, and Charlotte, and any other city across this great land, please forgive me when I say: “GO STEELERS!”

Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at Please visit our website at


Big Data on the Campaign Trail; One Toke Over the Line

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2012 at 7:15 am

Last week, I spent entirely too much time warning about the hazards of exploding consultants, eventually getting around to a far more important point that big data will increasingly determine how business will be conducted in the future.

Little did I know that big data would play such a huge role in the re-election of a president. I say that because, judging on the reports that I have been reading, Team Obama was plowing new ground, doing things that had never been done before in a political campaign in data collection and data interpretation.

This was far more than the selling of a president. Rather, this was war room science where algorithms reined supreme.

What is now apparent is that Mitt Romney ran a conventional if not a retro campaign, relying on media consultants and pollsters who wanted to fashion a brand that would hopefully move voters to the polls. The message was often a bit muddled, but the point is the Romney campaign employed tried and true tactics to unseat Barack Obama.

A Post-Modern Campaign

But the campaign to re-elect the president was a post-modern campaign that depended heavily on organized gathered data and computational formulas designed to identify and motivate those who might be inclined to contribute money and vote for the president.  This was math and social science with a purpose.

Come Tuesday morning, the Romney team was understandably on edge, while journalists covering the campaign described the Obama camp as exhibiting a certain calmness, so confident were they as to the end result.

Now the purpose of this blog is to not to revisit the campaign rhetoric or the debate on which candidate might have the better choice. The woulda, shoulda, coulda is over. The American people have spoken. That train has left the station.

Rather, I am exploring how a political campaign embraced big data into a winning formula. Just how did they do that?  The answers or rather the clues might provide businesses with valuable insight on just how analytics can be leveraged in providing for an edge over the competition.

And prevailing over the competition is the name of the game, in business, politics and war.

Measuring Everything

At the very start, Obama campaign Jim Messina had promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign. “We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign,” he told Time magazine after taking the job.

Messina hired an analytics department five times as large as that of the 2008 operation, headed by a man who had crunched huge data sets to maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions. Dozens of  “scientists” conducted data-mining experiments, which  were given mysterious code names such as Narwhal and Dreamcatcher.

According to an excellent Time magazine report, this massive data effort  helped Obama raise $1 billion, remake the process of targeting television ads and created detailed models of swing-state voters that could be used to increase the effectiveness of everything from phone calls and door knocks to direct mailings and social media.

Running Tests and Developing Models

A new mega file was created by consolidating data bases, merging  get-out-the-vote lists with fund-raising lists. This went far beyond finding potential voters and getting their attention. Rather, the data crunchers were running tests and developing models to predict which types of people would be persuaded by what kind of appeals.

About 75 percent of the determining factors were basics like age, sex, race, neighborhood and voting record. Consumer data also helped round out the voter profiles.

Data collection and analysis took center stage in a metric-driven e-mail campaign in which dozens of fundraising appeals went out each day. The analytics team built a detailed picture of voters in key states, allowing for deep dives into exactly where each demographic and regional group was trending at any given moment. They processed and reprocessed the data nightly to account for all imaginable scenarios.

“We ran the election 66,000 times every night,” a senior official with the Obama campaign told Time. “And every morning we got the spit-out — here are your chances of winning these states. And that is how we allocated resources.”

So what is the takeaway from all this? Businesses, too, are learning that knowing more — much more — about your customers will play an ever-increasing role in motivating them toward action. And that is where big data can make the difference.

Holy Smoke

A few weeks ago, an editor with a business newsletter from the Northwest asked me, among other things, about my perceptions of the business climate of his part of the country. I was a bit reticent to answer.

I told him that as a site selection consultant, I advise companies to go where they need to be based on many factors. I said it was absolutely conceivable that a client company should need to have operations in the Northwest for reasons of proximity to customers and suppliers.

But he pressed me on the business climate thing, so I finally relented. I said something like this: “Ok, look, I believe that you have some issues regarding permitting, especially environmental permitting, that can slow down a project to the point that it can take you out of the running. That’s not good.”

Naturally, when the story came out, the editor quoted some unnamed source saying that I was full of it. Fine. I can live with that. No big deal.

But now, lo and behold, voters in the states of Washington and Colorado, have essentially legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. That’s right, recreational purposes, not medicinal.

Now I have to speculate, and admittedly it is speculation at this point, that such moves will not be helpful to the business climate in those two western states. I can foresee a huge conflict in the workplace, something that employers and any prospective employers do not want to face.

Will the Feds Act?

How and if the federal government will act is going to be key. I don’t think legalization for recreational purposes will or can stand.  And for the record, I would not be offended if the feds stepped and in effect said, “No, you can’t do that. We got our own laws, too.”

There is a time and a place for states’ rights to be damned. States have proved to be fully capable of doing the wrong things, witness the Civil Rights movement in the South in the 1950s and 1960s, in which state governments openly embraced and upheld white supremacist views in restricting the voting rights of African Americans.

And while Washington and Colorado are not trying to restrict rights but do, in effect, just the opposite, I cannot envision how this move will be allowed to stand. Again, I have to think that this will play hell on the business climate in both states.

Simply put, if I am a manufacturer in Washington or Colorado, I am not too pleased with the notion of my products being potentially compromised with quality issues because I have stoners on the shop floor.  I would want to monitor and measure not only product defects, but  my health care costs and rates of absenteeism, all of which I would suspect would increase as a result of legalization.

At Issue is Productivity

Now it is likely true that legalization of marijuana may save law enforcement agencies substantial amounts of money in terms of the cost of enforcing drug laws. But it does nothing to help or contribute to advancing innovation and efficiencies on the shop floor of a production operation.

Ultimately, this is issue about productivity at the workplace, pure and simple. And while the notion of employers intruding into the private lives of their employees gives me great pause, if what employees are doing adversely affects their ability to perform their job, then it becomes a workplace issue.

Hey, I am a live and let live kind of guy. But I also think there is no issue here that drug abuse (and yes that absolutely includes alcohol) costs our economy billions of dollars a year in lost time, increased health costs, quality control, decreased production, a whole host of factors. And employers have the right to take reasonable measures to protect themselves.

In site selection, we try to the best of our ability to get a handle on the quality and the quantity of labor in any given place. People are the lifeblood a company and for a community, too.

Whenever possible, I want to measure the measurable, but I also want to get a feel for the place.  This usually entails some gumshoe reporting (I was a newspaperman in my prior life) and behind-closed-door interviews with existing employers. If a rural county is covered up in meth labs, well, I want to know about it because it could pose a threat to my corporate client’s investment should this location be a place of interest.

Now how do you think most employers, particularly manufacturers in Washington and Colorado, feel about the now sanctioned use of marijuana for recreational purposes within the ranks of their employees?  Do you really believe that it will not affect productivity on the shop floor? I can only imagine what they would be telling me and none of it is good.

Please understand that I am not saying that Washington or Colorado would automatically be stricken from consideration during the site selection process. That would be going to extremes.

But what I am saying is that I have questions. Plenty of them.

Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at Please visit our website at

Saving Consultants; All the Words Ever Spoken

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2012 at 6:40 am

Consider for a moment that if you do hire a consultant, you may, in fact, be preventing a very big mess from happening.

You see, consultants are chockfull of ideas, some of which are actually worthy of being considered.  But through a freak of nature and not through any fault of their own, consultants are compelled to share their ideas, valid or not, or they will literally pop.

I kid you not, this is an absolutely true and documented fact as presented in Fred’s Medical Journal. Thankfully, conferences were invented so as to prevent for this threat of exploding consultants. My advice:  Don’t let consultants explode. Invite them to speak at your events.

Thankfully, I have been out of danger this year. Just when I started to feel that bloating sensation, some group has invited me to speak to their ranks. And I have obliged by gushing forth all sorts of ideas and data, relieving the building pressure from within.

At these conferences, I have talked about a variety of subjects, including the need for communities to invest in certified sites (a service which I most conveniently offer) and the importance of establishing real and robust business retention and expansion programs.  I have prattled on with seemingly authority on the current and future state of the economy, manufacturing, workforce and re-shoring.

Offering Escapist Fare

People like hearing from all-knowing, sage-like consultants, if only for a little while, as we offer escapist fare, much like the movies.  Little do they know that they are actually saving our lives by being that willing and accepting audience.  I can only thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Last week, I was back in Florida, for the third time this year, gushing away and thereby not exploding on anyone. The good people of Business Facilities magazine held what they called a LiveXchange conference for economic developers and corporate end users. My PowerPoint presentation was on “Choosing a Location for a Manufacturing Facility.”

As there were Fortune 500 execs attending, my subheading should have read “Why Companies Should Hire Me,” but it’s in poor taste to be too blatant about these things.

Our Thoughts with Our Friends

My magazine hosts were quite gracious and nice, but I couldn’t help but notice that they were not all there. They were obviously preoccupied with events unfolding in their home state of New Jersey, where Hurricane Sandy was causing so much destruction, taking and uprooting lives. All of them wanted to be home with their families during the storm and I could only sympathize.

My heart and prayers to Ted Coene and his talented staff at Group C Media Inc., the economic developers from the Garden State who were present, and all the people of New Jersey and New York during this difficult recovery period.

Sometimes, and this is not something that I am particularly proud to admit, but sometimes, I will actually get my ideas for this blog from another gushing consultant. Such was the case this past week, when I heard my friend, Anatalio Ubalde, speak.

His presentation at LiveXchange – something to do with the meaning of life and why we are here – touched on a subject that I will actually try to be serious about – big data or rather “Big Data.” Prior to listening to Anatalio, I knew more about Big Daddy Kane than I did about big data, but all that has now changed since I am a consultant with a blog.

It has been said that “all words ever spoken by human beings” could be stored in approximately 5 exabytes of data. What is an exabyte, you ask?

And Now You Know

An exabyte is a unit of information or computer storage equal to one quintillion bytes. The unit symbol for the exabyte is EB. The unit prefix exa indicates the sixth power of 1000:

1 EB = 1000000000000000000B = 1018 bytes = 1000000000gigabytes = 1000000terabytes = 1000petabytes

I know you have been sitting up at night wondering about that. Well, now you know. Leave it to say, an exabyte is big, real big.

According to the good folks at IBM, and they should know, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day — so much that 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years. Think about that for a moment, 90 percent of all data created in the last two years.

It comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few. Big data is not just big, it’s a growing monster.

Who or What Can You Trust?

Ironically, many business leaders don’t trust the information they use to make decisions. And if you cannot trust the data, how can you act? Establishing trust will forever be the big challenge for big data as the mountain continues to grow.

But acting upon dig data can give a business person an edge by answering questions that were previously considered beyond our reach. Now, we’re in the early stages of figuring out how to do it, and that is kind of exciting. At least my friend, Anatalio, seemed excited, so I figured that I best get on the bandwagon.

In short, big data has all the promise of becoming a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus. It can make information more usable at higher frequency. And it can and is making a huge difference in site selection and economic development.

“One of the big points that I tried to make in my presentations is that economic development has a history and perception as being a profession in which decisions are made in cigar-smoke-filled back room deals based on people’s gut feelings and relationships,” Ubalde said.

“This type of decision-making is a competitive disadvantage in the era of big data. Now there is a revenge of the economic development nerds in which their ability to understand opportunity through data will enable them to out-compete those that make decisions from their gut, because over-and-over common sense, traditional wisdom, and gut feelings are wrong.”

Managers now want and need instant analysis so they can use the insights to make decisions when they can still influence business outcomes. Big data will also allow for narrower segmentation of customers, permitting more tailored products and services. This can prove to be a huge breakthrough for manufacturing in this country.

Now, seeing all the potentials, this is where you are supposed to start getting excited.

If US healthcare were to use big data creatively and effectively to drive efficiency and quality, the sector could create more than $300 billion in value every year. Two-thirds of that would be in the form of reducing US healthcare expenditures by about 8 percent, according to research by MGI and McKinsey’s Business Technology Office.

“In most industries, established competitors and new entrants alike will leverage data-driven strategies to innovate, compete, and capture value from deep and up-to-real-time information,” according to the MGI and McKinsey report.

Nature Prevails

Google was playing the part of big daddy data before, during and after Hurricane Sandy. It launched an interactive crisis map, displaying useful information such as the locations of relief centers and the projected path of the storm. A whole host of smaller firms also took the opportunity to showcase their prediction models.

Still, nature somehow always seems to get the upper hand. As Hurricane Sandy made landfall, the surge of water that descended on New York flooded data centers that were built in flood zones. So much for the precise science of site selection, huh?

I hope that I wouldn’t do something quite that dumb. You have to believe that it’s probably not the best idea to locate all your data at one or two locations susceptible to the same disaster. In short, redundancy in different places has its place. But most small companies do not back up their virtual infrastructure in multiple places, probably due to cost.

Last month, IBM and the University of Oxford released a joint study in which 1,061 companies were surveyed worldwide. The study found that 28 percent were piloting or implementing big data activities. IBM identified four phases of big data adoption. They are:

  • Educate. Focus on data collection and market observations.
  • Explore. Develop a strategy based on business needs and challenges
  • Engage. Pilot big data initiatives to validate value and requirements.
  • Execute. Two or more big data initiatives have been deployed with advanced analytics applied.

IBM found that only 6 percent of companies are now at the execute stage so we are largely in the early stages of how to figure out how all this works.

Information Remains King

We have always had data but we have never before been faced with such an explosion of data with all the social networks and mobile devices out there. Whoever can best harness this beast, will no doubt have a competitive edge in the marketplace because information has been and always will be king.

My advice to you: Figure out how to crown yourself.

And also vote. Tuesday we pick a president. Voting is a rite and a right of citizenship. Be a good citizen. I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at Please visit our website at