Big data isn’t really about data that’s so big. That’s one of the findings of a new study by NewVantage Partners, which surveyed C-level executives and IT leaders at large corporations and government organizations such as JP Morgan, Freddie Mac, General Electric, Aetna, Time Warner Cable and the Department of Defense, among many others. The survey found that big data is actually about variety, not volume.
“The most important goal and potential reward of Big Data initiatives is the ability to analyze diverse data sources and new data types, not managing very large data sets,” noted the NewVantage report.
Getting a grip on the multitude of data sources is much more important than volume, according to respondents. Data variety, complexity and quality were more of the issue.
“Marrying transactional, unstructured and clickstream data together for analysis is a challenging, perennial problem with high potential business value,” noted the study.
Roughly 85 percent of executives surveyed said they have big data initiatives planned or in progress; the benefits of big data are not in question for most firms. But gleaning insight from the volume of data already in-house is much more important for most firms than collecting new data sources such as social media data, according to the report.
Large organizations are using this data for a variety of applications, including risk management, IT, online operations, fraud management, direct marketing, customer service and other areas. But the biggest use, according to those surveyed, is to help with customer and market analysis.
“Regardless of whether the data are supporting decisions or products/processes, the primary beneficiary of Big Data appears to be the customer,” noted Thomas H. Davenport of Harvard Business School, who wrote the forward to the report.
“The single most common application of Big Data in this survey is probably—reading between the lines of several question responses—the use of multiple customer data sources to better understand their needs and target promotions and offers to them,” he said.
The two big challenges for large organizations when it comes to big data, however, is organizational alignment and finding or training staff that’s able to work with big data.
Big data cut across more than one line of business or function for 80 percent of respondents, and this means integrating disparate data sources and cutting down on organizational silos.
It also means that all involved in the organization need better understanding of data fundamentals and how to manipulate big data, both on the C-level and in employees tasked with working with the data.
There was a mismatch between IT and business leaders on the adequacy of data in the organization, according to the survey. Roughly 61 percent of IT respondents said that access to data was inadequate, while only 46 percent of users felt the same. Even more pronounced, only 43 percent of IT felt the data was able to be used properly, while 82 percent of business users felt the same.
Further, finding people skilled in handling big data is a major challenge for most large companies.
“Although many had a large existing staff of strong analysts, most were very concerned about developing and acquiring skills needed to leverage Big Data,” noted the report.
“There is a storm approaching on the Big Data talent front; 70 percent say they plan to hire data scientists, but they already find this challenging to extremely difficult, noted Davenport, “and there is no reliable source of new talent in this category.”
He added: “It would seem to be a wise move to begin building such talent as well as buying it.”
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