Of all the challenges and opportunities facing businesses as we head towards 2015, one of the highest priorities for the year ahead is set to be overhauling data analytics solutions to make them better-equipped for the modern business world.
This is according to research firm Gartner, which named advanced analytics as a key area of focus for enterprises in the year ahead. It observed this is being fuelled by the need to gain broader insights into a business and demands to ensure solutions are accessible to more users.
A major driver for this is huge improvements in just what companies can expect to achieve through the effective use of analytics. While this is not a new area of interest for firms, the potential offered by the latest big data technologies means that many more departments than in the past stand to benefit from the insights gained.
Alexander Linden, research director at Gartner, commented: "Rather than being the domain of a few select groups (for example, marketing, risk), many more business functions now have a legitimate interest in this capability to help foster better decision making and improved business outcomes."
As a result, both IT and business unit leaders will need to expand their analytics efforts and make a push to replace traditional business intelligence solutions with the latest advanced analytics tools. The goal for many deployments will be to transform a firm's analytics capabilities from 'descriptive' analytics into predictive or even prescriptive analytics, which can greatly improve both the accuracy and speed of decision-making.
"While basic analytics provide a general summary of data, advanced analytics deliver deeper data knowledge and granular data analysis," Mr Linden started.
Under a basic descriptive approach, the only information businesses will get from their business intelligence tools is an overview of what has happened within their company or the wider market. It is then left up to workers to take action to determine why events occurred and to figure out how to respond to what may happen in the future.
With a predictive approach, on the other hand, businesses are able to gain a much clearer idea of what will happen before the data is even examined by humans, which can help them to make better decisions, free of any pre-determined biases that may creep in if they are relying solely on their instincts to guide their actions.
However, Gartner warned that in order to make the most of the potential offered by predictive and prescriptive analytics, companies need to make sure people with the relevant skills from all parts of a company are part of the process, and not just leave everything to information specialists.
"Data scientists are not business analysts," said Mr Linden. "They are professionals with the capability to derive mathematical models from data to reap clear and hard-hitting business benefits. They need to network well across different business units and work at the intersection of business goals, constraints, processes, available data and analytical possibilities."
Therefore, enterprises must not overlook the value of 'soft skills' such as understanding customer trends or have to acquire new business when it comes to implementing a big data analytics solution.