Big Data Is Now A Key Management Issue

by CXOtoday News Desk    Dec 01, 2015

big data

Big Data is no longer a buzzword in the enterprise. Today, many businesses are already embracing big data and are prepared to face and overcome challenges associated with the technology. A new study by the Economist Intelligence Unit shows how big data is moving from its infancy to “data adolescence,” in which companies are increasingly meeting the challenges of a data-driven world.

The report, called “Big Data Evolution,” explains the ways in which the attitudes and activities of businesses have changed over the past four years with regards to big data — collecting it, storing it, analyzing it, and using it to make business decisions about strategy.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) conducted a global survey of 550 senior executives sponsored by SAS earlier this year, to follow up its previous executive surveys indicates that the tone of corporate conversations about big data continues to shift from initial excitement to expecting long-term business impact, said the researcher, adding that over the past four years, executives have not only become better educated about the technology behind big data, but have fully embraced the relevance of data to their corporate strategy and competitive success. 

Some of the key highlights of the study include:

A corporate asset

The research firm said, since 2011, a significantly larger proportion of companies have come to regard and manage data as a strategic corporate asset. The ranks of companies with well-defined data-management strategies that focus on identifying and analysing the most valuable data (referred to here as “strategic data managers”) have swollen impressively since 2011. No longer indiscriminate data collectors or wasters, companies are entering a period when the initial excitement over the possibilities presented by big data gives way to the need to prioritise and develop on data initiatives with the biggest payoff. More companies have ventured further into this stage of their data evolution, and their executives are more likely to feel that they are better at making good, fact based businesses use of their information.

Data management linked with financial success

Strategic data management is correlated with strong financial performance, said the survey pointing to a clear correlation between managing data strategically and achieving financial success. Companies with a well-defined data strategy are much more likely to report that they financially outperform their competitors. In addition, they are more likely to be successful in executing their data initiatives and effectively applying their data and analytics to resolve real and relevant business problems.

Data-strategy ownership has been elevated and centralised, while engagement and demand from the business is at an all-time high. Across industries, data strategy has been elevated and centralised to the C-level, most often with the CIO/CTO or the newly minted chief data officer (CDO) role. At the same time, senior executives across functions and business units are increasingly in the driver’s seat of their data initiatives, and not just relying on IT leadership to design and execute them.

Data initiatives have moved from theoretical possibilities to focus on solving real and pressing business problems. Companies approach data initiatives today with a clear focus on their purpose—putting business value first. They are much more likely to start by articulating and finding a consensus on the high-priority business problems the organisation will solve by leveraging its data assets. Financial resources available for big data initiatives remain scarce, so there is a pronounced need to prioritise which initiatives to invest in, as well as how to demonstrate the financial return on these investments. 

Technical challenges associated with quality

Technical challenges associated with quality, quantity and security persist. Even top performers continue to struggle with a number of technical aspects of big data. These foundational aspects of data management still drown out the more advanced, higher-value-add aspects of data management, such as governance, compliance and converting data into actionable insights.

The future of big data is less about volume and velocity, and more about the value that the business can extract from it. Going forward, companies will have to shift their attention away from the “bigness” of big data and focus on its business value. Data and analytics will be increasingly applied to predict future outcomes and automate decisions and actions. Most importantly, many companies will have to continue to evolve their structure and culture to scale up successful data pilots across the entire organisation. This means becoming more comfortable with approximation, agility and experimentation, and reinventing themselves into a new kind of information-driven, data-centric business—closer to data adulthood.

The next level of big data 

The report noted that in the last four years, companies have matured notably in how they manage data. Most find themselves in their data adolescence phase—having formulated their big data strategy, they have embarked on the early stages of implementation. While still overwhelming in a technical sense, big data is now better understood by business leaders. They are increasingly driving the design and engaging in the execution of big data initiatives. They are also more likely to address the most critical business problems and generate the desired business results.

Going forward, companies that will be focused on extracting measurable value from corporate data assets and learning to rapidly scale successful data pilots into global, company-wide capabilities, rather than focusing on volume and velocity of data gathering and processing. As companies become increasingly digital and the customer value proposition increasingly data-driven, data become keystone assets to drive innovation, make forward-looking algorithm based predictions to automate decision making. 

Companies that lead the evolution will be those that put data at the centre of their strategy. They will develop requisite capabilities—including talent acquisition, employee engagement and setting the right priorities—to win the game of converting big data into lasting competitive advantage and tangible performance, concluded the report.