There’s little denying that big data has become one of the business world’s favourite buzz-words. As information technology advances and more and more data becomes available, individuals and organisations have new opportunities to drive business transformation.
“An enormous amount of data is available today,” says Eddie Short, head of data and analytics at KPMG in the UK. “Social media and governments are posting more and more of their data online. In the UK you have data.gov.uk alongside universities, academics and industry bodies that are publishing more content. Today, there are five billion internet-connected devices in the world; by 2020,that number will rise to 20 billion. Anything that can be connected to the internet is being connected.”
Of course, not all that data is useful. One of the main challenges facing today’s businesses is the amount of redundant, irrelevant and noisy content out there on the web. Finding your way through this data can be daunting.
“It’s about finding multiple needles, but in a haystack of haystacks,” Short says.
The data arms race
Duplication and noise aren’t the only things worrying organisations. The amount of relevant content can be equally daunting for your everyday business suddenly presented with mountains of pertinent information.
“Many organisations have spent a great deal of money on data warehouses and customer data management systems,” Short says. “Now they see there is a lot more they can find out about their clients, customers and suppliers online. It’s about how you capitalise on that, how you leverage what’s still within your organisation as opposed to just drowning in it.”
The competition to collect and exploit big data has never been greater. Organisations that have been able to use this, have, in many cases, overtaken traditional market leaders. The pressure to respond has lead to an environment Short has called a ‘data arms race’.
“Many of the most successful retailers pride themselves on their CRM systems and are typically backed by very powerful data warehouses,” Short says. “But they have been feeling the heat from online retailers such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, which have more customers and can exploit data from all over the globe. The only thing you can be certain of is that doing nothing is not an option. You have to up the ante to win market share. It’s a data arms race.”
Cloud data and analytics
One of the best ways of getting value from data is using cloud technology to enable its analysis. The two are closely linked, according to Short – one having evolved from the other.
“A lot of big data is synonymous with the cloud,” he says. “If you look at where a lot of cloud technology has developed – for example, Amazon Web Services – it’s from angling and managing huge amounts of data online. They’ve created the technology to handle millions of customer interactions and then mine that data in real time to improve the propositions that they are offering you.
“Of course there are difficulties. Organisations have spent over 20 years trying to control a significant amount of data internally – that’s been central to the way they behave – so they aren’t always ready to let that go.”
Having data in the cloud is one thing, but knowing what to do with it is another thing entirely. For Short and KPMG in the UK, the key is the link between data and analytics.
“There’s an explicit connection,” Short says. “It’s about having the analytical power not just to look at data in terms of what it’s saying in terms of trends and patterns, but also to identify much more predictive correlations and opportunities. Today’s organisations have large amounts of data – and with the right analytics, models and algorithms they can leverage that data and move forward.”
This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK.