While many firms are aware of the potential to be seen from big data, actually converting this into real-world value is often where the real challenge lies for businesses.

Being able to analyze large data sets is now more important than ever, as the volumes of information that firms are required to deal with continues to grow. It was reported by Wired that researchers at the University of California, Berkeley estimate that currently, five quintillion bytes of data are generated every two days around the world. It noted this is equal to all the information produced by every conversation that has ever taken place anywhere.

The publication observed that this presents huge opportunities for companies to improve their decision-making by converting this into real-world insight. Although there is a lot of hype surrounding big data analytics much of this is justified when the practical applications are examined.

For example, retail giant Walmart has been able to achieve a ten to 15 percent increase in completed online sales through careful analysis of information, leading to $1 billion in incremental revenue. These figures were obtained by examining e-commerce sales before and after the firm applied a big data strategy to study customer buying behavior and spot where changes could be made.

Results such as these could be seen across many companies, with big data able to help organizations anticipate customer and supplier demand, forecast sales and calculate the impact of a wide range of scenarios on their activities, among many other uses.

But the real-world value of big data is not only confined to improving sales figures. It was reported by the Wall Street Journal this week that chief financial officers (CFOs) cannot afford to ignore big data.

It said the solutions seem "tailor-made" for these personnel due to their ability to use high performance computing to analyze huge volumes of data. But many of these executives are reluctant to invest as they believe that the technology would make their lives more complicated and may not be worth the cost of investing.

However, the Wall Street Journal stated: "Experts say the CFOs who haven't embraced big data are missing out on opportunities to speed up and improve some of their more difficult and time-consuming tasks." 

For instance, as well as better managing sales activities, big data can be used to detect fraud and significantly cut the time taken to close the books at the end of each quarter.

One firm that has benefited from this is oil giant Chevron, which uses big data to run audit tests on all of its accounts-payable transactions, whereas in the past, it was forced to select just a small sample. As a result, the finance department is able to better understand the risks the business faces and adjust its audit activities accordingly, while the amount of time spent on auditing has been slashed by around 15 percent.

CFO at the company Patricia Yarrington told the Wall Street Journal: "This offers a combination of much better quality for notably higher efficiency and lower costs."