Big data. It just keeps getting bigger. Every report, every dashboard is being compiled from larger sets of data. And it all has to be compiled as quickly as possible, with “near real time” barely good enough to fill the increasing demands in sales, support, marketing and finance.
Big data, and the business intelligence (BI) tools that supports it, is the stuff of many CIO’s nightmares. Why? Because top management’s attention is laser-focused on big data as the solution to many corporate problems.
Even the slightest hint that the executive suite doesn’t have the most up-to-the-minute data possible, and any problem that makes it hard for top management to get a snapshot of the business in real time to identify any problems in sales, support, marketing, production or finance, is met with a demand that IT solve the problem immediately.
In fact, the focus on data may be masking other problems, according to Gartner Sales Performance Analyst Patrick Stakenas. “There’s no question that big data is the biggest trend in business intelligence, and it will remain that way for the foreseeable future. But it’s not just an IT issue. It’s a management issue. Relying too much on big data analytics risks losing the personal approach to selling.”
Big Data Solutions
Whether your company is just beginning to implement a more affordable, scalable way to handle data warehousing for business intelligence, or riding the “second wave” of big data by delivering more sophisticated analytics, chances are that big data solutions are high on your priority list for 2013. Here are several key trends that InfoVision clients are following closely this year.
- Sophisticated “what if” algorithms that help management make better decisions by correlating data better.
- Advanced analytics that go beyond simple dashboards and reports to allow questions like, “Why are sales down in one region but not another?”
- Simplified analysis that allows business users – not just data scientists – to combine information from unstructured and structured sources.
Getting there, according to Gartner, will create 4.4 million IT jobs around the globe to support the transformation of big data into useful BI. “Unfortunately, colleges and universities are graduating IT professionals without the skills they need to fill these jobs. These ‘data artisans’ or ‘data analysts’ must bridge the gap between IT and business, and they need the skills taught in both worlds as well as a new way of thinking,” explains Gartner Research VP Douglas Laney.
Connecting Data to Provide Context
The huge stores of data that companies have accumulated haven’t added true value to the enterprise yet, because data requires context in order to be useful. Context includes a clearly articulated business strategy for using the data, an understanding of competitive shifts, an understanding of the market’s perceptions about your company and your products, and much, much more.
Gartner’s Laney says, for example, that social media is a great source of data and information about customers, but it can cause real problems for executives unless it’s put into context. “Companies have found, for example, that trying to adjust to negative feedback on Twitter can make them manically reactive. The answer is blending such information with other data sources. When you put it together, you get a more realistic picture.”
IT expertise is critical when devising a big data strategy, Laney adds, especially with unstructured data. “Business intelligence can’t analyst data if it isn’t organized so that analytical models and techniques can extract key insights at an individual and aggregate level.”
When devising a big data strategy, utilize the technical skills of your IT folks. “IT will need to determine the most appropriate data architecture and analytical models/techniques to extract key customers insights at an individual level and an aggregate level,” writes Gartner research director Jim Davies. Technical prowess is key to capturing the “voice of the consumer” via a variety of unstructured data sources, including social media posts and survey results.
Even after all the data is collected and analyzed, there’s still one more pitfall to look for, adds Adam Sarner, Gartner’s big data and CRM analyst. “The successful big data project isn’t about collecting massive amounts of this data,” Sarner says. “It’s about making the right information accessible and action-oriented for the company and the customer for core CRM.”