Future Trends

Your 101101 guide to Big Data and the questions you were afraid to ask21st April 2016

Along with cloud computing and the Internet of Things, Big Data is technological concept that has been hotly discussed by thought leaders, managers and IT nerds alike over the past few years.

Despite the buzz, many of us (author included) have tentatively nodded along in agreement without understanding the full extent or application of the technology. A fair few have just been downright confused or sceptical about the whole thing.

Like any business trend, it is important to understand what exactly everyone means when they throw the term Big Data around and give it a stern onceover to see if all the fuss is worth it. To help, we’ve picked out some of the most commonly asked questions to provide a straight-forward introduction to this technological jargon.

Isn’t Big Data just…a lot of data?

Actually, if you take apart the straight definition, that’s exactly what it means. SPS states that Big Data “describes the large volume of data - both structured and unstructured - that inundates a business on a day-to-day basis”. There is no set threshold for what constitutes Big Data, with the amount dependant on the specific organisation.

However, Big Data has become a more complex concept than files upon files of information and the term is now widely used to describe how we store, retrieve, analyse and present this often-overwhelming amount of information. This is where the real meat of Big Data is chewed over.

Are companies actually getting on board with this?

According to Gartner, 64 per cent of firms are actively planning or considering investment in Big Data initiatives in the next few years. There are plenty of industries out there that are applying big data analysis to operations already, with great success. As Frank Buytendijk of Gartner explained, looking at examples outside your organisation’s industry is vital in realising the value of potential projects.

SAS named just a few major sectors that are applying Big Data methods in a number of incredible ways. For example, organisations in the medical sector have utilised Big Data to better comply with safety standards and patient care needs. In the Retail industry, firms can better gather and analyse customer data, leading to more personalised sales strategies and increased positive feedback.

Why are we so hung up on it?

One of the key reasons many people are buzzing about Big Data is due to the current period of exponential information growth we are experiencing. In fact, CRC predicts that we will experience an annual data generation growth rate of 4300 per cent right up until 2020.

Naturally, extracting, finding and even producing valuable information will require a lot more creative link-building and analysis for many companies. The hard truth is that the majority of information will be nothing more than noise that distracts from meaningful insight or usable knowledge.

While many people are hailing Big Data Analytics as the saviour of the issue, there are some important caveats to consider before making a full embrace.

This all sounds rather expensive.

You could be right. For starters, you need to make sure you have the process, physical equipment and systems to support them. Of course, more data leads to the need for more intensive cyber security, as perpetrators will only become more aggressive yet sophisticated in their attempts to obtain valuable data.
You also have to consider the level of return that any Big Data initiatives will give you in the long run, whether this is improved profits and productivity, reduced waste or a more engaged workforce.

“The sweeping changes in big data technologies and management approaches need to be accompanied by similarly dramatic shifts in how data supports decisions and product/service innovation,” said Thomas H. Davenport, Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College.

However, the most important aspect of a Big Data uptake is having the right people on board to help make it effective and achieving a specific set of objectives. As Chief Data Scientist at Lemoxo Technologies Satish Patel stated, this means getting highly skilled data scientists who can create appropriate algorithms and figure out how exactly they can bring value to the business through advanced data analysis.

Can I pay someone else to do it for me?

Outsourcing this venture is becoming a lot more popular, especially when you consider the results of a recent EY and Forbes survey. Out of the 564 executives questioned, 70 per cent were just in the early development stages of digital strategies, citing “critical talent shortfalls, inconsistent skills and expertise across the organisation” as major barriers to the uptake.

It is important to choose a provider who will act as a partner, taking into account your strategic goals and the limitations of your organisation. A good provider will play to your strengths and offer meaningful solutions, but will avoid over-selling and telling our organisation that they can magically solve all your problems.
Contracting a team of employees is also another viable option, although this some with the added task of proper onboarding and monitoring to ensure they fit well with your current team.

So…should I be looking into it?

If you have a number key systems and process that you could better measure or quantify, then it’s at least worth a second look.  However, it is a considerable investment that takes a lot of planning and talent, whether sourced inside or outside of the company. You need to have a team of technological savvy people with both the hard and soft skills to see a project right through to completion.

The hype around Big Data is set to stay as more products and studies project themselves around the internet. For organisations, it is important to take in all the information with a critical eye and keep the potential benefits in the back of their mind until the perfect time arises to set initiatives in place.

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