MBN’s Big Data Survey’s Key Findings Published

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With steadily increasing hype and an on-going promise that ‘Big Data’ will solve untold commercial challenges and unanswered questions, how seriously are business taking it and what progress are they making with its implementation, staffing and resulting benefits? MBN’s Big Data Survey, carried out in 2013, questioned 135 participating companies and in excess of 120 senior executives in six countries to quantify attitudes, adoption trends and implementation issues surrounding Big Data.  Here we share our key findings, conclusions and observations relating to the results.

Is Big Data finally reaching the mainstream board agenda?

Yes.  Our survey highlights progress in the integration of Big Data initiatives and core IT strategy initiatives: 12 percent of respondents in our survey have had a board level sponsor for such projects.  This would indicate that Big Data and the board do mix, with results indicating that this will increase in the next year through specific awareness initiatives.

Big Data is not just about IT!

In the past, much has been opined about where Big Data initiatives should sit.  For many, data management and analysis were often considered IT roles.  Our study shows that perception and reality are changing, and in some cases quite rapidly.  Surprisingly, some 93 percent of businesses with dedicated business analysts do not consider data analysts as part of their IT headcount.  When explored as a whole, these findings point to an ever-increasing emphasis by businesses to embed data management and analysis throughout the business – getting data into the hands of many more users.

Investment is demanded to deliver to the benefits of Big Data

Despite more than 81 percent of respondents indicating that they are already using some form of business insight tools, over half of respondents stated that they would be increasing their investment in this area.  From the responses provided, it seems that this increase in investment is most likely to come from the recruitment of additional human resource to make sense of Big Data and to ensure compliance and good governance of the data environment, rather than on brute technology tools and systems.

Big Data becomes increasingly important to business

While at present there appears to be a reduced return on investment, many of the businesses questioned believe that the initiatives will eventually deliver what is expected.  Review of the anecdotal comments here confirms that a skills shortage and lack of appropriately skilled senior managers has probably contributed to this.

So, skills for maximising the advantages of Big Data are important.  The vast majority of companies (92 percent) with dedicated data scientists and analysts have turned data into revenue.  Among companies without dedicated analysts, less than 30 percent have successfully converted data into revenue.

Benefits beyond new revenues from Big Data

Besides generating revenue, how are businesses using data to shape their operations?

The most popular use of data is for sales and marketing activities.  Interestingly, 93 percent of respondents reported that using data has helped them make informed business decisions.  Perhaps this is what will drive the board agenda and its likely future interest in how Big Data can be harnessed?

There is much more work work still to be done

A majority of respondents reported obstacles in managing, storing and analysing data; from being overwhelmed by the volume, to data security, to not having enough dedicated business insight and analytical staff to analyse it.  Based on earlier insight, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 79 percent of business stakeholders feel their company needs to develop new skills to turn data into business insights.

Clearly, there is still much more work still to be done!

Final thoughts

For an increasing number of organisations across sectors, the path ahead clearly involves the rise of Big Data as a topic of critical importance to the boards.  It’s an optimistic outlook but one fraught with obvious challenges.

Published in The Drum magazine, April 2014.