Big Data: From Buzzword to Business Staple

In Big Data by Shelly KramerLeave a Comment

Big Data: From Buzzword to Business Staple

Does your company practice smarketing? Any plans to use the freemium pricing model for services in 2016? What about getting teams together to focus on growth hacking or scouring the headlines to prime your PR folks for the next newsjacking opportunity?

No, this isn’t the Twilight Zone. Last year brought an interesting set of brand new buzzwords into the mainstream, and all of those mentioned above made Business News Daily’s annual roundup. Buzzwords come and go, but corporate jargon is nothing new. As far back as 1911, there were business-related books being published (like Frederick Winslow Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management) that in turn coined that era’s latest organizational lingo. Some stick, some don’t, but for the most part, catchy terminology tends to be lacking in the depth department.

Occasionally, however, a buzzword morphs into something much larger—a mindset, a movement, or even a factor in a company’s standard operating procedures. Yes. I’m talking about big data—the once-upon-a-time buzzword-bingo term that Gartner now says will receive budgeting dollars from 75 percent of businesses within the next two years. That’s not a typo: 75 percent of businesses ranging in geography and size are either already investing in or planning to invest in big data before 2017.

Bye bye, buzzword. Hello future of business. Today, we’re doing a lot more than simply talking about big data for the sake of talking about big data—rather, we’re using it as a tool to develop initiatives that influence SOPs and streamline processes.

To really understand the implications of big data for companies today, let’s take a look at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

An Abbreviated History of Big Data

Just as corporate buzzwords have a rich and storied history, so too does big data. Though they didn’t call it by name at the time, Forbes reports the Oxford English Dictionary first mentioned the upcoming “information explosion” all the way back in 1941, when information technologists began attempting to quantify data growth rates. While information explosion wasn’t exactly a misnomer, the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) coined the exact term “Big Data” in August of 1999.

Titled “Visually exploring gigabyte data sets in real time,” the piece described big data—even in its relative infancy. Here’s a quote—note the similarities with how we discuss the topic today.

Where megabyte data sets were once considered large, we now find data sets from individual simulations in the 300GB range. But understanding the data resulting from high-end computations is a significant endeavor. As more than one scientist has put it, it is just plain difficult to look at all the numbers. And as Richard W. Hamming, mathematician and pioneer computer scientist, pointed out, the purpose of computing is insight, not numbers.”

Since that article was published, the amount of big data being generated and collected—and the discussions surrounding best practices for all those initiatives—has grown exponentially. As the authors suggest, the numbers still may be “just plan difficult to look at,” but at least we can look at them through results-tinted, ROI-focused lenses.

Key Report Findings

As big data migrates from an intangible idea to an actual SOP for many companies, questions about storage, security, and viability will undoubtedly arise. Data from the aforementioned Gartner study—comprised of the responses from 437 businesses varying in size from around the globe—can shed some light on today’s big data trends and provide insight into what businesses can expect in the future. Below are some notable takeaways from the report:

  • Seventy percent of companies that have previously invested in big data plan to also analyze location data. Just think of the implications for mobile business models and the platforms they support, like smartphone local search.
  • Besides location data, companies that plan to invest in big data within the next two years will also focus on analyzing free-form text.
  • Most companies polled expect a positive ROI but don’t really know if that will happen. (Yes, you read that right.) In fact, 38 percent of companies that have already invested and 43 percent of companies planning to invest have no idea if their big data efforts will be profitable or not—but they’re going forward anyway. If you needed any more proof, this is pretty sound evidence that big data isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
  • The survey found that CIOs aren’t the only ones who initiate big data projects—in 2015, 31 percent came from the heads of business units and 32 percent came from the CIO. This shows that big picture big data projects can be both collaborative and empowering.
  • Practical challenges to big data initiatives as noted in the Gartner report include the following: Lack of personnel skills, governance, funding and low to no ROI. No surprises there, right ?

What’s Next?

The Gartner research says what we have all been thinking about diving into big data initiatives: There are challenges, but the potential benefits outweigh the costs—and the challenges. Especially when you consider the business case for successful big data projects—streamlining workflow, improving customer experience, reducing costs, increasing the effectiveness of security and marketing efforts—it just makes sense for both CIOs and their marketing counterparts to embrace big data.

Remember this—as those article authors stated back in ‘99 when they named big data in the first place, the purpose of computing is insight, not numbers. I included that quote as for a reason. It’s a powerful statement, especially as we navigate an IT space filled with formulas, algorithms, and projections. If we can get big data right, we can have a profound impact on every part of business operations: Customer experience, employee experience and productivity, business efficiency, R&D, speed to market, customer satisfaction, and so many other things. Success with big data lies in the ability to gather data, to filter and analyze it effectively, and then apply the knowledge and insights you’ve gleaned as a result in ways that can have an impact.

Has your business invested in any big data initiatives in the past? Do you plan to this year? It’s easy to see the benefits of big data investment from a conceptual level, but actually harvesting that ROI from real-life initiatives is another story. If you have an experience, comment or piece of advice to share, I’d love to hear it.

Additional Resources on this Topic:

Mobile Devices, Big Data and Big Displays: A World in Sync
Big Data And ROI: An Uneasy Pairing For CIOs
Bloomberg: Six Gotchas that Will Upend your Data Science Team

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. For more on these topics, visit Dell’s thought leadership site Power More. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

Photo Credit: documentmanagementsoft via Compfight cc

Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”

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