When firms are looking to implement big data analytics programmes in their operations, a few key questions and challenges crop up time and again, and it is often how companies deal with these issues that determine how successful their overall rollout of the technology will be.

It was noted by AdAge contributor Owen Shapiro that although big data can bring a wide range of benefits to an enterprise – particularly in areas such as marketing – there are also some serious risks that, if unaddressed, can threaten a company. However, he also stated that with careful planning and a thorough understanding of what the issues are, these challenges can be overcome.

The security question

At a time when issues of privacy and security breaches never seem to be out of the news, businesses will need to reassure customers that any personal data they collect will be safe. This is one of the biggest issues firms face at the moment, and as such will require close attention.

This should not stop at simply reviewing policy, but needs a commitment to a long-term programme of investment in infrastructure, as customer data is increasingly a firm's most important asset. Mr Shapiro noted: "The more people trust companies with their personal information, the more companies need to be worthy of that trust."

Don't be overwhelmed

Another common issue is firms underestimate just how much data they have available to them, or do not differentiate between what information is relevant and what can be discarded. This often leads to projects failing as firms get swamped in more information than they know how to handle.

To tackle this, businesses need to be as specific as possible about what they want to achieve, and what type of data will best help them in this. As data is becoming more granular, so the tools for sifting through it also need to get more refined. To do this, businesses need to be clear on their parameters and make sure they have a defined focus. 

Getting data in the right hands

Despite the efforts many companies are making with big data, one problem that often arises when they are trying to analyse this is that information continues to be siloed in traditional data warehouses, with each arm of the business having its own way of doing things. This can mean it is tough for departments such as marketing, accounting or engineering to share key data.

This is where having staff with the right data management skills becomes invaluable. Mr Shapiro said: "Superior education and training of data-management personnel will pay huge dividends down the road, even if it seems like an unnecessary expense now."

These personnel will not only need a thorough knowledge of the technologies being used to collate and analyse data, but they will also have to understand how the results will relate to the business. This will require a good working knowledge of all aspects of the company, in order to know what questions to ask and what answers will be relevant, so for many firms, a key decision will be whether to bring in external experts, who may lack company knowledge, or to train up existing staff, which may be time-consuming.