When many companies embarking on a big data analytics programme, they will often have one or two key use cases in mind that they intend to focus on in order to boost their performance.

For instance, a retailer may be looking to study its customers' buying history in order to offer more relevant, personalised recommendations and improve sales, whereas a utilities provider may aim to evaluate energy usage patterns to help predict spikes in advance and prepare accordingly.

However, while these initiatives can prove highly valuable for businesses, they may only scratch the surface of what big data analytics is capable of. In an article for CIO.com, International Data Corporation research director Dave Schubmehl stated that many organisations do not realise just how much potential they have locked within the wide variety of information sources available to them.

"Those organisations that do recognise this potential are generating insights from their own internal big data and advanced analytics techniques," he continued. "In addition, they are turning those insights into increased revenue, improved knowledge worker productivity, and lower costs."

He noted that in many cases, businesses need to look beyond the most obvious data sources in order to find this value. Often, useful data may be hidden within a variety of formats, locations and applications that would not typically be able to talk to each other. The key to a successful big data initiative will therefore be to find ways of combining this data into a single solution that can give businesses a complete picture.

Mr Schubmehl offered a range of examples of how this can be achieving in practice, as well as some of the results businesses can expect.

For instance, he highlighted an insurance company that is using automated technologies to monitor social media, phone calls, email, and text messages. It is then able to respond to claims after a disaster much more quickly with far fewer employees than its competitors, delivering a superior level of service at a fraction of the cost.

Elsewhere, a provider of OEM service and repair information to the professional automotive service and collision industries has adopted text analytics technology to identify, extract, and organise parts and repair information from all manufacturers. the result of this is that the company has been able to improve the amount of data ingestion and processing it does by 5,000 per cent, enabling it to update its pricing model and offer better insights to clients.

Despite the benefits that can be seen, this type of innovation remains the exception rather  than the rule, with very few businesses getting the full value they could be.

Mr Schubmehl said: "Some organisations lack the appropriate technology to so do, others lack relevant skills, yet others are simply not aware of the 'art of possible' when it comes to accessing and analysing the combination of structured and unstructured content."

However, for companies that can harness their information correctly, the rewards can be plain to see. For instance, earlier this week, UK retailer Shop Direct – which operates ecommerce sites such as very.co.uk – announced a 78 per cent increase in profits for its last financial year, a performance that chief executive Alex Baldock attributed to its investment in big data and technology.