Friday, April 18, 2014

The Challenges Facing the World of Big Data

It seems like everyone is talking about big data these days. With businesses of all sizes starting to turn to the world of big data for information and guidance, even utilizing it to pick out future trends in their business, the onus is on businesses of all sizes to start getting ready for big data, or risk losing out on a competitive advantage.

So just what is so important about big data? What challenges do businesses face in implementing it? And how can they face those challenges to not only make themselves ready for big data, but make the most of it too?

Image Credit: Forbes

Big Data Has Big Benefits

The first question most businesses want answered is simply, what is big data? There's an adage that anything you can't handle using an Excel spreadsheet counts as big data, and there is certainly some truth to that.
Big data is data in huge quantities, gleaned from all kinds of sources, including:

Website metrics;
·     Social media;
·     Data from CRM systems;
·     Emails;
·     Payment history.
And much more….

There are many sources of big data and at first glance it can seem like a lot of noise that's not really worth the hassle.

So what's the big deal about big data?

The big deal is that big data can be used to give any company a competitive edge. By trawling the information and mining what is useful, a business can gain insights into the likes, behavior and characteristics of its customers.

This can then be used to do more of what works and fix what doesn't, giving businesses a chance to streamline their services. 

Take for example a company who wants to figure out which of their Facebook posts are performing best. Using big data - in this case information gathered from their Facebook account - they could analyze their content to get useful answers.

For example:
  • ·         Which kind of posts perform best: Offers? Pictures? Humor? Useful Tips?
  • ·         Which posts were more likely to lead to a sale or further dealings with the customer?
  • ·         Is there a particular time or day when posts perform best?
  • ·         Who is clicking on the posts? What can the business learn about their customers?

When it comes down to it, big data contains within it a wealth of useful information that can not only look deeper at customer behavior and business performance, but show up possible future trends too.
The difficulty for many businesses is how to overcome the challenges and implement big data.

Big Data Challenge #1: Skills

The first challenge facing companies who want to use big data is a lack of skills among their current team.
Big data involves a big learning curve - from learning the technology needed to process it to analyzing it and sorting the wheat from the chaff.

For businesses that need to start combatingbig data skills concerns, training is key.Businesses may well find they can draw the skills they need from their existing team without the need to employ a data specialist. Whether in-house or through an external provider, good training can help the whole team make sense of big data, and their place in their employer's big data plan.

Big Data Challenge #2: Planning

Talking of planning, figuring out what to do and how to do it is one of the biggest big data challenges facing businesses today.With so much data available it can be all too easy to rush in and start gathering data without much of an idea what it's all for. Now that really is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

To combat the tendency to gather it all and then find an unwieldy and disparate set of figures facing them at the end, businesses need a good plan.This needs to clearly answer the question: What data are we collecting and why? The data needed to increase sales to a specific segment will differ from the data needed to predict interest in an upcoming product, for example. Knowing the destination makes it easier to draw up a plan and avoid unnecessary diversions.

Big Data Challenge #3: Collection

If big data is fairly new in a business, getting it collected can be a hurdle. That's why planning matters - businesses need to lay out clearly what is to be collected, and who will collect it how, from where, and when. Getting good quality data should come as standard at this stage - low quality data now can lead to low quality results down the road.Along with collection comes the question of storage.The options for collection and storage vary and setting aside time to research options and figure out which are the best fit for the businesses current big data needs and future big data plans is key to success.

Big Data Challenge #4: Analysis

All the big data in the world won't help a business to grow or be worth the time spent on it if the analysis isn't smart, clear and very usable.As well as needing the technology to analyze it (more on that in a moment), skills also come back into play here.Whether a business hires a data expert or draws from their existing talent pool, the capability to analyze the data and get clear, true results are vital.

Big Data Challenge #5: Technology

One of the biggest worries for businesses adopting big data is the learning curve associated with the technology.One of the most common choices is Apache Hadoop, an open source software designed to handle large data sets. There are other options - IBM's InfoSphere is designed for real-time processing, and Twitter has even gotten into big data with its Storm application.

Investing in big data can have a big payoff, but for those not able to take that step yet, it's perfectly acceptable to start smaller with existing technology so long as there is a real and workable plan to go bigger.
As with any new technology, the key really is training and allowing enough time to learn new skills, along with clear motivation about why this matter, to the company as a whole and the trainees personally.

Getting ready for big data can seem like a daunting task, but it's one that businesses must nevertheless face if they want to stay competitive in their field. The keys to big data success are planning, a clear aim, and enough time for training. The results are well worth it. 

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