Big Data – looking beyond the hype - Business Works
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Big Data – looking beyond the hype

Patricia Langrand, Executive VP, Steria The massive expansion of our online world means that much of our focus for the next decade will be on making sense of the mass of information – or Big data – currently being generated by businesses and consumers. According to the Future Report 2012, the Internet grew by an estimated 1.2 zettabytes in 2011 alone – that’s more content than existed in every book in the world just ten years ago. Just for reference, one Zettabyte equals 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes - a lot of data! Extrapolating this growth means that by 2020, the Digital Universe will be 44 times as large as it was in 2009 says Patricia Langrand, Executive VP of Group Business Development and Marketing at Steria.

Big data will become a deciding factor in the success of businesses who want to grow, be productive and competitive. However, without a means of processing it, businesses are quite literally drowning in data. Advances in data storage, transmission and processing have transformed the internet from a geek’s paradise to an essential pillar of 21st century society. Yet, amidst the hype surrounding the concept, it’s still difficult for many businesses to grasp and hone the skills and tools they need to harness data for the better. So how are businesses actually faring with capitalising on the opportunities Big data can provide? What are the main hurdles preventing them from using data as a strategic tool for competitive advantage?

Are businesses ready for Big data?

Our Business Intelligence Maturity Audit survey examines the readiness of European businesses in embracing Big data. This year’s survey follows the format developed over the past 10 years and was carried out in 20 countries across Europe. It pulls back the curtain on the reality facing many European businesses today. The key findings, somewhat surprisingly, were that only 7% of businesses consider Big Data to be 'very relevant' to their business. In addition, 72% of those questioned claim to not have a business intelligence strategy in place. Without this, it’s almost impossible for businesses to sift through the vast amounts of data generated by customers and prospects to transform it into actionable and valuable insights.

Quality trumps quantity

38% of companies have a data problem

For some, Big data still remains very much a 'hyped-up' concept, rather than a pressing reality that needs to be addressed in the short-term. This is due to the fact that businesses are not yet seeing the growing volumes, varieties and velocities of data to be a big challenge. Interestingly and more importantly, data quality continues to be neglected and is deemed as the 'Achilles heel' and main downfall in the success of most BI (Business Intelligence) environments. 38% of companies have a data problem.

Cleanliness is next to competitiveness

As the old adage goes – 'garbage in, garbage out'. Without thoroughly cleansed, integrated, good quality data, the analysis process fails to provide the business with accurate, up-to-date information on business performance. This information is crucial to ensure that companies remain competitive in today’s saturated business landscape. Data quality is such a big problem for businesses that it actually appears first on their list of technical challenges, way before the velocity, volume and variety of data (ranked 13th, 14th and 15th respectively), which are the defining characteristics of Big data.

The winner takes it all

Big data isn’t a new concept. Some businesses have already recognised and capitalised on the potential it can hold. In the healthcare sector, businesses use Big data analytics to drive innovation and efficiencies in the way they deliver patient care or conduct clinical trials. In retail, Big data can increase operating margin, reduce product waste and target consumers with relevant products and services more efficiently. Even governments start using Big data through their vast patient and citizen records to inform policy making.

According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, Big data could add £216 billion and 58,000 new jobs to the UK economy by 2017, if analysed correctly. It’s clear that Big data has the potential to fuel economies across the globe and will affect businesses of all sizes and across all sectors for years to come. By bridging the gap between the hype and the expectations of Big data and addressing the current organisational and technical challenges, the reality of Big data could mean the difference between innovation and stagnation, profitability and disadvantage and success and failure.

How to take all the benefits of Big Data

  • Put data quality right at the top of their agenda
  • Reconcile the professionalisation of their BI infrastructure operation with the user expectation for flexible BI solutions
  • Increase the agility of their BI environment
  • Establish BI-specific structures and processes
  • Not feel unsettled by the current hype surrounding Big data, but check the relevance specifically for them
  • Approach the subject of Big data tactically and stage-by-stage taking the following steps:
    • First, carry out awareness training. Establish an understanding that Big data is not simply about handling 'more data' in the established format. It is much more about creating new structures
    • The above requires use cases that are relevant, both legally and in terms of time and content. And they must have functional benefits that justify investment in technologies and the expansion of expertise, not the other way around
    • Check use cases for Big Data from other sectors in terms of their relevance to your company and identify potential Big Data sources
    • Assess their use case via a proof of concept (PoC) with regard to its added value and not exclusively with regard to technical feasibility

In the medium-term, companies will need to focus on a BI service portfolio with predictive and prescriptive analytics instead of reporting on past events.

The full report summarising the findings of the Steria survey can be found here:

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