Key opportunities for big data highlighted

Businesses looking to make the most of the big data trend may want to focus their attention on three key areas that the solutions can be used for to help unlock new opportunities for organizations.

These were identified by Gartner analysts Doug Laney, Hung LeHong and Anne Lapkin in an article for the Financial Times as making better-informed decisions, uncovering previously-hidden business insights and being able to automate a range of processes.

Being able to make the most of these will be vital for enterprises across all sectors, as the analysts observed big data analytics will be one of the key areas where firms can make a real difference to their operations.

“The value in accessing the ever-expanding pool of data is great. However, it hasn't been easy for CIOs and their organisations to analyse it all,” the Gartner representatives stated. It was observed the sheer volume and variety of the information available means many businesses struggle to cope.

Some data comes in quickly and so needs real-time analytics in order to draw out usable insight. But there is also a much wider range of sources that companies now have to deal with, such as video and social feeds. Much of the information businesses gather in today's environment is unstructured, so the right tools to make sense of this is essential. 

However, with these solutions in place, the ability to make better-informed decisions is one of the biggest benefits of effective analytics.

One example of this provided by Gartner was that of Wal-Mart, which developed a semantic search capability for its website that was able to learn from the customer buying behavior of the brand's 45 million online shoppers to provide more relevant results. In real-terms, the result of this was a ten to 15 per cent increase in completed transactions.

Big data analytics can also be used to identify opportunities that would otherwise have been missed, as some insights can only be spotted when asking an overview of a large amount of data. The Gartner analysts observed: “Many organizations are mining vast pools of data to discover hidden insights that were previously unavailable to them – often in the development of new or enhanced products.”

The third key opportunity for firms is to automate many of their business processes through effective use of their data. For instance, McDonald's implemented image analytics tools to replace existing manual processes, which could scrutinize buns during the baking process to ensure they were of a consistent quality. This greatly reduced wastage and cut down on the manual intervention staff needed to make.

However, Gartner observed that making a success out of big data will require more than just investing in the latest technology solutions. One of the big challenges facing many organizations is a lack of adequate skills in the area.

Forecasts from the research firm suggest there will be four million new jobs created in big data by 2015, but only a third of them will be filled.

“The shortfall will primarily be in the data scientists – those professionals with enough business knowledge to ask sensible questions – and the statistical and analytical skills to structure and analyse the data to derive sensible answers,” the analysts said.