The importance of big data analytics in business

The business of analytics

Big data is ubiquitous

The term and use of big data is nothing new. In fact, more and more companies, both large and small, are beginning to utilize big data and associated analysis approaches as a way to gain information to better support their company and serve their customers.

Let's put today's data in perspective. One study estimated that by 2024, the world's enterprise servers will annually process the digital equivalent of a stack of books extending more than 4.37 light-years to Alpha Centauri, our closest neighboring star system in the Milky Way Galaxy. That's a lot of data to gather or analyze – let alone understand!

According to Gartner analyst Svetlana Sicular, "Big data is a way to preserve context that is missing in the refined structured data stores — this means a balance between intentionally "dirty" data and data cleaned from unnecessary digital exhaust, sampling or no sampling. A capability to combine multiple data sources creates new expectations for consistent quality; for example, to accurately account for differences in granularity, velocity of changes, lifespan, perishability and dependencies of participating datasets. Convergence of social, mobile, cloud and big data technologies presents new requirements — getting the right information to the consumer quickly, ensuring reliability of external data you don't have control over, validating the relationships among data elements, looking for data synergies and gaps, creating provenance of the data you provide to others, spotting skewed and biased data."

With the use of big data becoming more and more important to businesses, it is even more vital for them to find a way to analyze the ever (faster) growing disparate data coursing through their environments and give it meaning.

Getting the Right Information for Your Business

Focusing on the right information by asking what's important to the business is a key point in obtaining better data context. In a presentation held at TeamQuest ITSO Summit this past June titled "The Data Driven Business of Winning" Managing Director of CMS Motor Sports Ltd. Mark Gallagher, shared how Formula One teams successfully analyze data to ensure the safety of drivers and win races.

Gallagher explained how a team of data engineers, analyzing reams of information in real time, can help make strategic decisions for the business during the race. "In 2014 Formula One, any one of these data engineers can call a halt to the race if they see a fundamental problem developing with the system like a catastrophic failure around the corner."

It comes down to the data engineers looking for anomalies. "99% of the information we get, everything is fine," Gallagher said. "We're looking for the data that tells us there's a problem or that tells us there's an opportunity." In a nutshell, it's about finding the anomalies that matter, in the context of the business problem being managed.

A Formula One driver's steering wheel is basically a laptop, providing him with the data needed to make the best decision available. Drivers can scroll through a 10-point menu – while driving – and adjust parameters that affect the performance of the vehicle. This happens because the driver is able to get to the right data when needed to get a desired outcome.

Lots of data is collected by IT, which shares data that's important to the customer (business), and together they use that data to gain an advantage and be successful in the marketplace.

Proving the Value in IT to Business

How can you prove the value of IT to business? The ability to measure costs is key but having the ability to measure the business results that come from the use of IT services (private cloud environments, for example) will drive better business conversations with IT management.

Focus on business goals and understand how the use of IT services contribute to business results and provide the best basis for planning future services. The majority of CIOs believe the IT department can increase the value it delivers to the organization by improving cost measurement.