Information has always been a key element of success. Even in pre-internet times, organizations needed to know what goods and services were in demand, along with customer preferences, in order to remain competitive. Today the concept hasn’t changed, but the amount of information and how it is obtained certainly has. Fueled by social networks, mobile apps and internet-enabled devices, the volume and variety of data we create as individuals has exploded. With so much data to wade through, organizations today are presented with a huge challenge – or opportunity, depending on how you look at it.
Understanding big data
Big data is the catchphrase used to describe this modern abundance of digital data from many sources — the web, sensors, smartphones and corporate databases — that can be mined for discoveries and insights. It’s one of the hottest buzz words in tech today, and it promises smarter, data-driven decision-making in virtually every field.
But simply having access to lots of data isn’t going to make an organization more successful. All of those bits and bytes only add up to something when they’re organized, arranged and made coherent.
Turning big data into smart data
One way organizations are successfully learning from big data is by using software to find patterns that were previously unknown. Banks, for example, are on the receiving end of lots of unstructured data that traditionally never had any real value. The millions of customer service calls a bank receives have large volumes of useful data points that were never connected in the past. Today, all of that unstructured data can be put through computer queries to mathematically reveal the reasons for the call. The bank can take action, implement new policies, and completely eliminate calls for that reason in the future.
In education, a field where students’ work is digitally collected and analyzed at the district level and above, big data is used by school systems to track and report performance. In data-driven classrooms, digital courses are being created that use predictive analytics to pinpoint what a student is mastering (or not mastering), and what modules of a lesson plan best suit them under those circumstances.
Implementing big data into your business model
Despite the potential and hype surrounding big data, its use is far from widespread. As a survey by data solutions provider Talend revealed last year, only 10 percent of participating organizations were engaged in large-scale big data implementation, despite a 40 percent growth in interest. Some common road blocks to implementing big data include conflicting corporate culture to focusing too much on short-term growth.
But small- to medium-sized business should never feel too small to start tapping into the potential of big data. A good first step is determining how big data can benefit an organization. Is it looking to gain better insight into who is visiting its website, how sales trends are changing, or how it measures up compared to similar businesses? Once an organization determines what information it wants to obtain and why, it should consider who in the company needs the data and what they are missing in terms of technology to begin to make it actionable.