It is like buying a classic car and then locking it away in a garage to gather dust. Businesses create massive amounts of data, spend a sizeable chunk of cash storing it – but how many are tapping into the goldmine of big data they have stashed away in their datacentres?
The answer is, not enough. IT departments are flat out managing data storage, with painfully little time and budget for exploring the contents. Estimates vary, with McKinsey’s predicted 40 percent per year data growth among the more conservative statistics. They also flag just five percent increase in annual IT spending.
Big data can come from a multitude of sources. It relates to the information contained within everyday business applications. Much of that data is structured – financial transaction records, inventory reports, human resource information and CRM systems.
Some of the fastest growth has occurred from unstructured data. Social media and mobile apps increasingly fuel data growth, with more than 5 billion people around the world using smartphones to tweet, chat and catch up on Facebook. By 2012, thirty billion pieces of content* were being shared on Facebook every month. We could be dismissive of the information shared on social media, but it is far from trivial when you consider the depth of insight it makes possible.
Asking the right questions
All that data is not much use unless it can be queried effectively. How to do this has perplexed many organisations. A growing number are now using big data to gain some remarkably potent knowledge. Moving from massive amounts of data to meaningful information depends on two things: the right technology, and knowing the right questions to ask.
Some of the biggest data gatherers are government organisations. Information about populations, immigration and health can help decide where to build new hospitals and schools, or to increase housing density. For big business, data from decades of policies helps insurers determine which claims warrant investigation, and which premiums should increase to balance risk.
Big data is not only for the big guys. These days, high end corporate systems aren’t essential for analytics. IT infrastructure vendors like Dell have invested heavily in making small to mid-market equipment big data friendly.
Getting those infrastructure basics right is worthwhile for a number of reasons. The simplest is that it reduces the amount of time the IT team spends juggling everyday ‘lights on’ tasks. Good IT professionals know more about their organisations than they are often given credit for – and freeing up some time gives them the opportunity to show it. Getting IT leaders more closely involved in planning business direction pays off.
The other big reason for getting the foundations in order is to ensure sufficient performance, without damaging the efficiency of other applications. After all, getting the answers to your burning questions is a lot less helpful if it results in hordes of frustrated customers because the increased demand caused another system to fall over.
Done right, big data means that you can have information at your fingertips, very quickly. Performing queries on a combination of your own and publicly available data can give you results very fast. This means better supported business decisions and far deeper insights into your customers and your business are possible.
Instead of gathering dust, maybe it is time to polish off your stored data and put it to work.