The business challenge of big data

Jennifer Scott looks at why companies should embrace big data rather than run for the hills.

Big data poses big challenges. But if businesses can tackle these head on, there are huge opportunities awaiting them.

The first time we heard the phrase "big data," we were wondering whether storage companies had gone into children's programming, describing in some Jackonory dialect what they did for a living. Perhaps they were trying to make the concept simple yet appealing to the kids in our schools, we pondered.

At a second glance though, it pithily sums up the deluge of data hitting us, both at home and in the office.

Different companies have different definitions of course, but it all comes down to more unstructured data than ever before piling through our networks, with the likes of rich media taking up even more space in areas like social networking.

Never before has the business seen so much customer content, pictures, videos, databases, file systems and even more types of information that, besides making you dizzy, has to be stored.

Big data offers a massive competitive advantage for the organisations that embrace it.

Big data sounds like a headache to most companies and, in most cases, is becoming a serious migraine. The provisioning of storage to handle what one needs to keep is a challenge in itself, but to keep up with the ever-growing numbers feels like a continual race.

Black sand

Where big data really comes into play though is not how you store it but how you use it to your advantage.

"You might want to think of big data as being black sand," said Colin Mahony, vice president of products and business development at HP. "You just need a way to analyse all the black sand (the massive amounts of raw data), in real-time, to find the gold (the nuggets of useful information) when and where you need it."

This is the key. Having all this data, be it on the performance of your staff or the preferences of your customers, gives you more knowledge than ever before. Bring in the old adage of "knowledge is power" and it seems big data is a big chance to know your market and your own company better than ever before, opening up new opportunities to grow.

"Big data offers a massive competitive advantage for the organisations that embrace [it] and its opportunities," added Mahony. "The companies that thrive in today's information economy will be the ones that can find the commonalities and the outliers in the data to let them see usage trends as well as opportunities for improvements."

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