Whatever else he’s known for, former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, will always be the guy who nailed the three levels of military intelligence – the ‘known-knowns’, the ‘known-unknowns’, and the ‘unknown-unknowns’ – in his memorable 2002 news briefing about Iraq and the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me because, as we know, there are ‘known-knowns’; things we know we know.”

Actually, the process of gathering and rationalising defence intelligence, is not a million miles away from managing business intelligence (BI) and discovering Big Data insights. In fact, many analytics departments include ‘intelligence’ in their team names.

So what are the known parallels with Big Data and analytics, and how come more organisations aren’t using these powerful tools to venture beyond the known-knowns of their businesses?

Known-knowns are the foundation of sound analysis – rational thought backed-up by data and insight, and allied to traditional analytical techniques. Along with Big Data and analytics, they play a key role in tackling business problems.


While crunching larger and more complex data sets with new analytical techniques, we use what’s known to be fact to help re-evaluate hypotheses, and optimise tactics and strategies. Visualizing the data can bring new insights to help re-engineer broken processes, benefiting both organisation and customer.

“We also know there are known-unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know.”

There are lots of data trends and patterns we’re unable to explain away, so known-unknowns are fertile territory for Big Data and analytics. Big Data helps to answer the ‘why’ of things – why customers behave in a certain manner, and so on. Analysing huge volumes of customer interactions and transactions uncovers new paths-to-action, demystifying fuzzy situations. These breakthroughs are free to flow once discovery analytics become embedded.

“But there are also unknown-unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is this category that tends to be the difficult one.”

These unknown-unknowns are mental blocks in a company’s corporate memory; connections or links that can balloon into major issues. These are the jaw-dropping Big Data discoveries that may seem obvious and rational now, but were never foreseen. Finding these first (and taking advantage of them) keeps a company ahead of the competition. In other words, jumping on a trend before it becomes a bandwagon.

All well and good, but hold hard there Donald. What about the unknown-knowns?

You know, the things an organisation refuses to acknowledge that it knows. Often, this occurs when the company is in denial due to conduct issues in the risk and compliance areas.

Advanced text analytics root-out the unknown-knowns. And finding paths that identify unfavourable outcomes for customers, allows the company to clean up its act. Which is important because breaking customer promises erodes brand value.

Gartner estimates that ‘Through 2015, 85% of Fortune 500 organisations will be unable to exploit Big Data for competitive advantage’. Which means only 15% will be venturing beyond the ‘known-knowns’ of their business, using Big Data and analytics to uncover new insights and deliver a sharper competitive edge.

So, why don’t more organisations take advantage of the extra value Big Data and analytics can bring to their businesses?

Who “knowns?” Beats me.

– Source: Forbes.