Understanding big data – and why it's vital for big business decisions

One of the most exciting uses of data I have seen recently has been in healthcare. We are starting to see medical teams developing tailored treatment for patients based on their specific gene data metrics. Doctors will be able to correlate genes to hereditary illnesses and consequently suggest preventative treatment, and the most effective treatment.

Data has the potential to impact so many different industries. Another key area where we are seeing growth is in financial services. There are multiple use cases for data in the finance industry, from detecting fraud to risk analysis. We are increasingly seeing investment companies carrying out financial forecasting using data and predictive analytics.

Direct benefits

For almost any industry, productivity, business intelligence and strong customer relationships are important to growth. These can be dramatically enhanced by the right use of data. The growth in the use of data in recent years has produced an environment by which the day-to-day life of organisations can be made leaner and more effective.

1. Increased productivity

One of the most important data benefits is the ability to save time and increase productivity. Organisational leaders who leverage data properly can obtain an overall view of the internal movement of ideas and data, spotting bottlenecks and over-performing units which help them to make changes accordingly. A McKinsey report highlighted that acting on social business data can result in a 20-25% increase in knowledge worker productivity.

Analysing and acting on the data can have a dramatic impact on productivity and help to reduce costs. Making data and analysis an everyday feature of company life will encourage staff to further use it to help save time on menial tasks and get more out of their time.

2. Business Intelligence

Making intelligent business decisions is important to any organisation, yet to the growing number of organisations becoming more adept with data, it is the data that makes the decision intelligent. The amount and types of data companies are processing means that they can put together predictive models, and use their data to decide on the next best action, removing the guesswork.

Financial companies are increasingly using data to make critical decisions by predicting the movements of financial markets and the outcome of their actions.

Equally, having all of the information to make a decision in one place can dramatically improve the process. In most organisations, critical data is usually available; however, businesses that have not moved into the data world are often unable to access the right data. Unsurprisingly, the Economist Intelligence Unit reported that nine out of 10 business leaders believe that their decisions would be better made had all the relevant information been available to them.

3. Increased customer personalisation

Closely tied with marketing, using data to personalise customer relationships is a growing trend. Smart merchants are segmenting and differentiating their treatment of customers dependent on customer profiles. Knowing if a customer is a big spender or likes a certain type of product means contact with that individual can be tailored to theses preferences.

Companies using data in this way are therefore able to invest their marketing into relevant areas, focused on higher value customers or increasing overall loyalty. Data provides an opportunity to gather information from users which can then enhance the user experience, building brand and improving decision making, bringing customers into the boardroom.

Acting on data

Traditionally, data analysis has been a slow and labour-intensive process. The growth of data awareness has meant that today's analysts can spend more time acting on data, rather than processing it. New IT tools, such as data blending software, have provided businesses with the ability to be creative and use insight to find the information they need.

Empowered by these exciting analysis tools, line-of-business analysts are already doing more than they could just a few years ago. Data is not merely just a marketing tool; it is a full-scale business tool which can be used across organisations. I would expect to see decision making with data become almost as essential to businesses as IT in the future.

  • Stuart Wilson is regional vice president of Alteryx UK