Unlocking the true potential of big data

The right tools and processes must be in place to tackle big data effectively

It is very easy to think that at the most fundamental level, big data is simply about capturing and searching information – lots of it – and the cloud is our modern day filing cabinet. When a traditional filing cabinet is completely full it is impossible to fit any more information in, very difficult to find the right files and nearly impossible to directly track, compare or understand the data within.

The cloud, however allows for organised and accessible data. Every time you search, shop, share, tweet or update your status, new pieces of personal information are added to your file. There are numerous files, in hundreds of different filing cabinets in thousands of virtual locations, forming big data.

Insight is key

However, what people really want is actionable insight, not large amounts of data. They want clear information that allows them to quickly analyse and act on that information. In that sense, big data can be a misleading name. Big data should be about understanding the cause and effect in the data that allows us to predict what will happen next and respond to it before it does.

This is opposed to the current information model in most companies, where people have to make guesses based on outdated information in Excel spreadsheets that have trickled down over many days or weeks from management reports.

Every action that takes place within an enterprise creates a unique digital footprint. These footprints can come from a myriad of sources – from industrial machines to hundreds of thousands of sensors giving out instant real-time information. All of these footprints contain valuable information.

While there are multiple rewards to be earned from harnessing these footprints – big data – there are, in turn, multiple challenges: the magnitude of the data being created, the flash flooding of database systems, and the time consuming nature of traditional data integration methods. Enterprises are further challenged by the escalating demands required by the line of business for real-time analytical insights.

The conversation about big data is infrequently about the information itself. More frequently it becomes about the technology – the ability to store, analyse and leverage it. Indeed, only by using the right tools can the true potential of big data be unlocked. Masses of data that can't be explained or understood can be very limiting and not very useful. Technology should be able to 'connect the dots', irrespective of form and source.

Understanding the consumer

Technology has become integral to most parts of life. Human beings have evolved into a new state of social intelligence; perceptive, mistrustful, quick to share and savvy. Loyalty in the connected age is exceptionally rare. People choose convenience, speed and function over heritage or brand. We know when we're being 'sold to' and can easily check for a better offer.

Understanding these evolved consumers will be crucial if any business wants to offer a unique customer experience and build trust in order to achieve customer loyalty. Big data is absolutely vital to the future of all businesses, shops, banks and media alike, as it can offer agility. The right tools can help with sentiment analysis, correlating sentiment from social media and other channels with CRM and other enterprise data to better enhance satisfaction and loyalty.

Big data – or rather, 'their data' – is the key here. A two-way stream of digital communication, a mutually beneficial exchange of data is essential to achieve this, which will allow businesses to understand the customer and respond to their needs accordingly. Digitalisation only works if all the components are properly connected, otherwise they do not work with true efficiency.

There is no doubt that the rules of the game are changing. Today we generate, collect, and retain vast quantities of information. This is creating challenges in terms of infrastructure costs and software upgrades. While harnessing this data can create unprecedented opportunities, clients today are struggling to achieve ROI on their current BI and analytics investments.