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Companies value Big Data, but need to hone their strategies

May 12, 2014

Big Data: Is it hype or is it the future? That seems to be the question as organizations begin to expand their data capacity while seeking ways to process those floods of information in meaningful ways. However, the vast majority of executives are confident that Big Data is a good investment, offering the potential to help them optimize their operations and explore exciting new possibilities. What's holding them back at this point might be the need for a well-crafted strategy and the IT expertise to support their initiatives.

Big Data opportunities 
Business intelligence has been around for a while, and some people regard Big Data as just another extension of the strategy. However, as SmartData Collective highlighted in a recent article, Big Data goes far beyond traditional BI techniques. The source pointed to a few examples of how companies are already applying these large-scale data resources to inform their practices:

  • Macy's is using Big Data to create "customer-centric assortments" tailored to local populations as a part of its overall efforts to offer a more personalized and smarter omnichannel retail experience, as BigData-Startup elaborated.
  • Coca-Cola puts Big Data to work to improve its year-round orange juice production.

Using Big Data effectively requires organizations to be able to combine different types of information from various sources. Big Data initiatives require the right infrastructure and computing power as well as a strategic approach.

A gap between ambitions and capabilities  
That's easier said than done, however. TEKsystems research has shown that while over half of IT leaders are regularly developing or implementing Big Data initiatives, over 80 percent believe there is a skills gap, with a shortage of IT professionals who are qualified to plan, execute and apply Big Data projects. The most important skills for these initiatives include:

  • Familiarity with data visualization, such as heat maps, and the ability to assess and explain complex trends
  • Knowledge of Hadoop, one of the leading open source frameworks for large data sets
  • Competence in SQL, Python, Unix, PHP, R and Java
  • Experience with data mining and modeling
  • Ability to connect analytics with high-level business goals

Creative thinking might be another key attribute. SmartData Collective emphasized the importance of creating an outside-the-box approach to Big Data since the resource is at its best when it combines different types of information in unique, strategic ways. However, this requires organizations to have a solid understanding of what Big Data is, what they need to do to put analytics in place and a vision of the different possibilities they could pursue. 

Technology running ahead of expertise? 
On a similar note, The Financial Brand posited that technological capabilities for gathering massive amounts of data and processing it may have preceded the development of skills and knowledge needed to apply these resources in meaningful, effective ways. In other words, companies often focus on ways to bring in more data, increase the variety of their information sources and enhance their computing power to process data more efficiently, but they sometimes neglect to invest equally in their human capital. The result, according to the source, is often poor performance. For example, retail companies relying on data to offer personalized suggestions to patrons might make mistakes and promote products that the customers just purchased and are unlikely to buy again any time soon. Big Data analytics aren't self-sufficient—they must be guided by human expertise and insight.

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