Big Data Was Here, But Now It’s Gone – Experts Say

Written by Dana Sanchez

Ask 10 people what big data is and you’ll get 10 different answers. Big data is not about technology, it’s about you and what you want it to mean, according to an analysis by South African data experts in All Africa. By as early as 2015, organisations that tap into their data will outperform their competition by more than 20 percent, experts say.

Smartphone apps are the biggest data generators, according the the report. Consumers of the future are always on, willing to share data and communicate with digital channels. How companies use big data platforms to interact with consumers will determine their business success in the future.

But the silver bullet for business is not big data; it is big data analytics, says Craig Stephens, solutions manager for Information Management, SAS South Africa. “Analytics is the business answer to big data,” Stephens said. “When we say analytics we do not mean a statistical analysis of the past, but about predicting outcomes. Regardless of the technology, the focus is on value and it’s about closing the gaps in the decision life cycle of a business and having the appropriate tools.”

For example, the value of analysis of big data in marketing is it can inform you of brand sentiment, target the right customers and/or how a product is perceived. For transportation companies it can, by tapping into live feeds, understand weather and save time and money, by, for example, suggesting a different route. Governments can use analytics for better road and traffic planning. Insurance companies can tap into sources of information to determine how risky a person is and personalize their insurance, benefiting the insurance company and the consumer.

There’s nothing wrong with a big data management strategy where data is received and a platform established, with some analytical modelling that is then published to its offices, Stephens said. “But there is nothing agile about this. The processes must be in place to access the data quickly.”

The driving force should be transforming business operations to derive value, say Gary Hope and Laura Kotlinski with Microsoft South Africa. Technology is cheap and easy to deploy, but businesses need to define the business problem to use the technology to solve it. “The traditional approach was to let the data do the work. Now you need to process the data and define the way you want to interact with it.”

The business environment is shifting. People are making decisions based on data that is
affecting their business. We are using new technologies to solve problems we previously
thought we could not, says Simon Jeggo, a business value consultant with IBM Software
Group. “The key is velocity or when we process the data,” Jeggo said. “If someone is trying to empty my bank account, I need to know now. Not an hour later. That is velocity.”

Time is important  — what’s the point if it takes days to understand a problem? “You need
real-time analytics that kicks off 15 minutes after someone has sent a tweet. Data analytics
is needed everywhere and in every industry,” Hope said.

If the focus is on the value big data analytics provides for business, then big data
initiatives must be aligned to specific goals, according to the report.

Big data should be seen as an extension of your overall information architecture, says Boikanyo Victor Botlhokwane, consultant with Oracle. Simplify and standardise your IT operations to get economic advantages.

There needs to be a centralized IT strategy, and standards and governance. “If you have a
mature model, why implement a new model?” Botlhokwane said. “Marry it with what you already have. Big data is not the other child in the organisation, but an extension of your existing data management strategy within your organisation.”

He also advises correlating your big data with data already existing in the organisation and integrate them. “This allows you to capture a unified view of your customer data,” he said.

Your IT environment must be dynamic, able to move fast; and a well-planned cloud strategy can help get your big data initiatives out there fastest, he said.

For proper big data to take place, proper infrastructure must be in place he said. “You do
not want your infrastructure to buckle, but there is also no need to start from scratch with
big data infrastructure. Identify what hardware and software is needed.”

He advises using a phased approach. “Identify one desired data set, capture it, explore new data management technologies, and determine integration points with existing data. It is easier to grow a pilot into a full-blown project.”

This way, you don’t disrupt the business.

A 60-percent shortfall in big data skills is predicted by 2018, Botlhokwane said.