Firms that have not taken the time to upgrade key elements of their IT infrastructure, such as their data centers, are likely to be unable to unlock the full potential of the era of big data.

This is according to a report conducted by Vanson Bourne on behalf of Hitachi Data Systems, which found that the pace of investments in infrastructure improvements is not keeping up with demand for big data analytics.

Bob Plumridge, chief technology officer for Europe at Hitachi Data Systems, told Computer Weekly: "In the past six months, big data analytics has become one of the top three IT priorities for enterprises." This is highlighted by the fact that three-quarters of companies surveyed by the group are currently investing in this area, with 80 percent of these firms at the stage where they are deploying solutions.

But despite this, as many as 60 percent of companies investing in data analytics solutions agree they do not have adequate data center capabilities to effectively analyze real-time information across very large data sets.

One of the key issues with this is it leads to businesses using the wrong data to guide their decision-making. More than half of respondents to the survey (53 percent) said they had used out-of-date or inaccurate information to formulate strategy.

Robert Bamforth, principal analyst at Quocirca, observed that despite the momentum that currently surrounds big data, many organizations are underestimating the challenges that adopting the technology with involve.

"While most have latched on to the concept of large volumes of data, many struggle with gaining insight in a sufficiently timely fashion from the breadth of information available," he said. 

Mr Bamforth added that common problems include inconsistent management of data, as firms store information in multiple disparate locations across the enterprise that make it difficult for employees to access it in an easy-to-use format when it is most needed.

IT executives were advised by Mr Plumridge to take a strategic approach to storing and managing data to make sure they are able to take advantage of all possible sources. It was noted almost three-quarters of firms can only analyze more than half of their data sets, while 33 percent are unable to utilize both structured and unstructured data. Six out of ten said they worry this means they are not getting full value from their data.

As well as ensuring the technology infrastructure is up to standard, it will also be important for enterprises to take a look at their business culture, as this is another key barrier for many organizations.

The study noted difficulties in sharing data and collaborating across all parts of a company are posing a major challenge. 

Stephen Ball, regional vice-president and general manager at Hitachi Data Systems, told Computer Weekly: "Traditional siloed working practices have inhibited information from being shared across different lines of business, which means people across the organization are working with various data sets which may not even correlate in terms of accuracy or time frame." 

As a majority of businesses surveyed agreed that real-time analytics will be crucial to their future success, putting in place the right tools to manage this data – both in terms of technology and working practices – will be vital.