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December 17, 2012

Taming Big Data

Posted by Vishnu Bhat (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:52 AM

I am fascinated by what an education policy expert said about the wonders of the Information Age - Students have greater and faster access to the world's repository of knowledge than at any point in history. Yet both standardized test scores and graduation rates continue to decline in America. His observation encapsulates much of what the corporate world struggles with in the shadow of Big Data. There's more information at their disposal than ever before. But unless they know how to decipher and curate these seemingly endless streams of information, what good does any of it do anyway? Like a student who fails a test despite having the great libraries of the world at his fingertips, Big Data isn't worth much if an enterprise doesn't know how to harness its power.

I've been fortunate to speak with some innovative entrepreneurs who have utilized Big Data to their advantage - and have some rather inspiring stories to tell.  For example, at the Infosys Executive Leadership Summit last month, I was part of the Big Data panel and absolutely enjoyed the chat about how effective enterprises can best tap into the promise of Big Data.

Most people are astounded when I mention that a typical company uses just about 20 percent of its available data. We call this structured data because it's what organizations use to make decisions and plan strategy. Some 80 percent of a company's data is unstructured, meaning it simply never gets truly leveraged for operations . So it essentially floats off into ether. In addition,  a great deal of unstructured data sits outside the company, mostly in cyberspace, and can often exist in social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. Savvy is a retail clothing company, for instance, that seeks to tap into that unstructured social media data to get wind of breaking consumer fashion trends and rapidly evolving purchasing patterns.

Here's another factoid that really surprises several business leaders: Of the 80 percent of a company's unstructured data, a whopping 40 percent can actually be acted upon. In the past, the stumbling block was the cost of reaching and processing all that data. Another consideration was time and place. By the time an enterprise processed the data and acted on it, which could have been weeks or even months, the sensitivity of that data had diminished. That's why organizations see a clear imperative to get the right technology to process data ... and the getting, as they say, is good.

Today, with the Cloud, we are faced with near-limitless computing and processing power. In some ways, Big Data, which has been unwieldy and intimidating for many companies for years, has found an answer on the Cloud. It has also met its partner in the exciting evolution that's taking place within many companies. My job allows me to travel the world and observe many different enterprises, big and small. And what I see is this evolving new organizational culture that is more introspective than ever before.

Make no mistake about it: Success can come from knowing not only how to change your organization, but from the initial acknowledgement that change must be initiated in the first place. How many times in the past year has your company looked into the mirror and critically assessed its decision-making processes? What is your organization's propensity to take slices of data and act on it?

Big Data is causing a huge program change in the smartest companies, I know. Like the student and the library, there's a new type of test coming along. And if an enterprise isn't studying for this new breed of exam, it's going to be stuck with a failing grade. No matter how impressive the library.

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