Preparing for the Big Data explosion

Business needs to get big data right. Times are tough, and the economic outlook remains overcast, for businesses to survive and prosper in this environment, companies need to make the most of any and all competitive advantages open to them and...

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Business needs to get big data right. Times are tough, and the economic outlook remains overcast, for businesses to survive and prosper in this environment, companies need to make the most of any and all competitive advantages open to them and big data offers one such major advantage.

One study has claimed that retailers, for example, can potentially increase profit margins by 60 per cent through a clear understanding of big data.

Get big data wrong and it can, of course, overwhelm you. If you lose the ability to marshal, analyse and act on big data, then it becomes a white elephant - expensive to maintain and of little actual worth.

With big data, organisations can gather information about their customers through multiple sources - from the Tweets they post and recommendations made on reviews sites, through to every transaction and enquiry that comes through their CRM systems.

They can also better understand their own business by scrutinising the data created by every employee, process and transaction within the organisation. However, being able to efficiently store, retrieve, and analyse such data to drive better business competitiveness represents a major challenge. IT systems need to be highly sophisticated and the fact of the matter is that many are not yet up to scratch.

Oracle recently published its second Next Generation Data Centre Index, looking at how organisations in Europe, Russia and the Middle East are responding to the issues surrounding the data centre and the explosion in big data. Led by analyst house Quocirca, this study found that since the previous survey, organisations had significantly increased the use of external data centres to cope with data volume (56 per cent up from 40 per cent). The number of organisations with in-house only data centres meanwhile had decreased (60 per cent down to 44 per cent).

The findings suggest many organisations have been forced to outsource data requirements in the short term because their existing infrastructure is unable to deal with the sudden increase. Outsourcing has provided them with the necessary elasticity to cope with growing volumes. Longer term however, organisations are looking to build their own data centre facilities, realising this must now be a priority worthy of significant investment.

It is clear that organisations are struggling to stay afloat in the sea of big data. Businesses are finding it a challenge to stay on top of the information entering the organisation and using this asset to its full potential. It appears that many have been caught out and are only now working towards changes in the data centre that will enable them to meet the challenge of Big Data and make themselves more competitive.

Taming big data

For businesses to turn big data to business advantage, they need to initiate changes to the way they manage data within the data centre. Firstly, businesses must bear in mind that big data is messy. It is made up of unstructured data taken from a multitude of sources, both from within and without the organisation. It can include content from videos, social data, documents and machine-generated data, from a variety of applications and platforms. Businesses need a system that is optimised for acquiring, organising and loading this unstructured data into their databases so that it can be effectively rendered and analysed.

Secondly, data analysis needs to be deep and it needs to be rapid and conducted with business goals in mind. As big data can include information from social sites it can effectively tap into the zeitgeist, but only if the data can be turned around rapidly. This will be particularly important for marketers: if they know that certain products or services are generating ‘buzz’ at a given time and location, they can respond to this by targeting supplementary promotions to the relevant geography. Similarly, if health practitioners can use real-time big data analytics to understand where the flu virus is spreading and at what pace, they can tailor their response and ensure that sufficient vaccine stocks get to the right places.

Thirdly, the scalability of big data solutions within data centres is a vital consideration. Data is vast today, and it is only going to get bigger. If a data centre can only cope with the levels of data expected in the short to medium term, businesses will quickly rack up costs on system refreshes and upgrades. Forward planning and scalability are therefore essential.

Conclusion

Big data is with us to stay. Every day new business and consumer services are being launched that add to the wealth of data we have at our disposal. As Professor Nigel Shadbolt and Sir Tim Berners Lee have pointed out, data is the new raw material of the 21st century, and those that are adept as prospecting and mining it will stand to benefit the most.

At present, few businesses are well placed to fully take advantage of big data, but we expect to see this change rapidly as the power of big data to transform businesses and generate revenue is better understood. When that happens, businesses need to put in place systems that can acquire, organise and analyse data, in real-time and on a massive scale. By taking these steps, businesses will not just acclimatise to the data explosion, they will flourish in it.

Posted by Nick Whitehead, BI&W Business Development Senior Director, Oracle

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