Data explosion ‘changing how we do business’

The huge increase in the amount of information available to companies and the emergence of big data analytics technologies that can interpret this and turn it into valuable insight is changing the way firms around the world do business.

This is according to a new report from Forrester Research, which said the possibilities facing enterprises are now endless. "Every interaction, every communication, every touchpoint creates a digital breadcrumb – a piece of data that can be analyzed and manipulated," the Wall Street Journal reported it as saying.

However, research by the company also found there remains a great deal of uncertainty about the technology. Around a third of marketing and business development technologies polled admitted they were confused by the term, while only nine percent expect to see data analytics solutions implemented within their departments in the next year.

This uncertainty is not mirrored across all parts of the enterprise though, as a parallel survey that questioned executives in charge of technology found these individuals are much more familiar with big data tools and are optimistic about what they can bring to their business.

Therefore, in order to break through the hype and confusion surrounding big data, vendors may have to improve the way they discuss their offerings and explain to personnel across all departments what benefits they can expect. This is something not all firms are doing at the moment, as Forrester noted: "Big data rhetoric is at an all-time high. Technology vendors tout products with claims that seem incredible."

Forrester highlighted several examples of how big data technology is being used to change the way in which firms do business, such as Netflix's analysis of user preferences when deciding which original programming to pursue, retailers building apps to help customers navigate stores and Uber challenging the taxi business with smartphone data.

The case of Uber – which connects passengers with drivers offering their vehicles for hire – is one prominent example of how big data-based innovations can disrupt existing business models, as it is currently engaged in a dispute with traditional taxi firms in London.

It is alleged by the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) that the firm's technology equates to being a taximeter – which private vehicles in the UK's capital are not allowed to use. Transport for London (TfL) has previously accepted Uber's argument that because the app is not physically connected to the vehicle – instead using GPS data to calculate fares – it does not break these laws. But the matter has become so heated TfL has this week referred it to the High Court for a binding ruling.

Forrester added that in the coming years, greater use of real-time and predictive analytics will be one of the key emerging trends. As an example, it cited Amazon's recent plans for 'anticipatory shipping', which may see the retail giant start shipping products based on predictions of what customers is certain geographic areas will be interested in.

It also warned companies investing in big data that they will need to take steps to reassure customers and regulators that any personal data used in their analytics is secure and not being mis-used – with the threat of fines and other penalties for companies that are careless with their data growing.

"Informed consumers will increasingly want to know what companies know about them and how their data is being used and shared," the report said.