The typical enterprise is awash in data. Virtually every industry sector—from health care and financial services to retail and manufacturing—is witnessing a growth in data volume at exponential rates.
Tucked away in these vast repositories is a gold mine of business secrets, opportunities and potential success. But putting all this information to work—including legacy data as well as unstructured data generated by social media and video—is a daunting task.
“In many cases, organizations have transactional data extending back 30 years or more, but they’re also coping with enormous volumes of multimedia data,” says Gary Curtis, chief technology strategist and managing director at Accenture. “Combining everything and making sense out of it is the challenge of the digital age. Currently, few organizations are tapping into the full potential of their data.”
Admittedly, this is a major challenge. A study of 5,000 organizations by research and advisory firm Corporate Executive Board (CEB) found that the ability to analyze and glean insights from data is a priority for global organizations—though few succeed in any significant way.
Only 38 percent of employees and 50 percent of senior managers have the ability to make good decisions based on data, according to CEB research. In many organizations, the greatest risk comes from too much analysis. More than 40 percent of employees trust analysis over judgment, while nearly 20 percent go with their gut.
Employees best equipped to make good decisions—“informed skeptics”—effectively balance judgment and analysis, according to the CEB. These individuals possess strong analytic skills and listen to others’ opinions about analysis—but they are willing to dissent.
The ability to develop a well-defined strategy and implement a viable solution to manage big data isn’t an option in today’s data-driven environment. “There’s no escaping it—it’s touching every industry sector,” says Kalyan Viswanathan, director for Global Consulting Practices Information Management with Tata Consultancy Services. “Big data is changing business and creating new risks and opportunities. Savvy organizations are looking for ways to put it to work effectively.”
Managing Data in a New Era
Since the dawn of computing, companies have looked for ways to manage and exploit ever-growing volumes of data. Big data—which spans greater volumes of data and more touch points—is at the center of this trend. Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimates that the typical large enterprise today holds somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 terabytes of stored data.
Companies must also cope with rapidly escalating volumes of unstructured data that doesn’t fit easily into a conventional database or data warehouse. Over the last few years, “There’s been an extreme broadening of the types of data that become part of corporate data resources,” Accenture’s Curtis says.
Big data can unlock value. It can make data more transparent and usable on a regular basis; provide insights through richer and broader data sets; create more narrow segmentation so that companies can fashion more targeted marketing campaigns and sales techniques; and help connect the dots to discover new products and services that might otherwise fly under the corporate radar. Organizations that use big data effectively are likely to realize a significant competitive advantage and open up new business opportunities.
But tackling big data isn’t as simple as putting a single system in place and automatically reaping results. It’s necessary to combine the right technologies and tools, build the right workflows and policies, find talent that can tap into analytics and predictive-analytics software, and build products and services that meet the needs of the rapidly changing marketplace.
“It requires extensive investments in data warehousing, data integration, business intelligence, data visualization tools, business analytics and predictive modeling,” Tata Consultancy’s Viswanathan notes. “There’s also a need to apply algorithms that uncover patterns, connections