Big Data Analytics In The Real World: Focus First on Customer InsightThere’s been a lot of media attention in recent months on big data analytics and its potential to radically transform business. Futurists and big thinkers predict dramatic innovations in technology and business over the next 20 years.

There’s no denying that big data and the Internet of Things present a dazzling vision of the future. But the truth is, in the real world of business, adoption of big data analytics is still in its infancy.

The IBM Institute for Business Value, in partnership with the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, recently conducted a study of more than 1100 business and IT professionals in 95 countries. The results provide a realistic picture of how business enterprises are using big data analytics in the here and now.

Some Surprising Results

One of the surprises coming out the study was how few of the respondents were using big data analytics in conjunction with social media. Despite the many press reports, it turns out that less than half of those with active big data initiatives reported collecting and analyzing social media data. Most of the current big data efforts are focused, instead, on sourcing and analyzing existing internal sources of data.

This is in keeping with the pragmatic approach of business leaders who’ve recently weathered a global recession. Despite the heady media hype, they are methodically building out their big data capabilities and applying their enhanced analytics to familiar collections of internal data.

Big Data Analytics In The Real World: Focus First on Customer Insight

Many of the organizations that are early adopters of new technology for storing and analyzing big data have been handling huge stores of data for years.

Take, for instance, the global telecommunications company that collects billions of call records per day, the oil exploration company that analyzes terabytes of geologic data, or the stock exchanges that process millions of transactions per minute.

What’s new is not necessarily the size of the data stores, but the addition of new sources of unstructured data that do not fit into traditional data warehouses.

Now, with the latest tools for advanced analytics, even those organizations accustomed to managing big data are able to achieve new depths of insight with greater speed and accuracy.

Focus First on Customer Insight

Nearly half of the organizations in the study identified customer analytics as the top business priority driving their investment in big data. By better understanding individual preferences and behavior, they expect to improve the customer experience and develop a deeper level of engagement between the company and its customers.

This focus on customers first is fundamental to the business case for investing in big data analytics. In the current fiscal environment big data initiatives are subject to more than the usual level of financial scrutiny.

Successful proposals are able to show an enterprise-wide blueprint for implementation and a forecast of early returns based on measurable outcomes. Projects that receive the green light often start with existing data and build out analytics capabilities in order of business priority.

The Analytics Talent War

As big data capabilities grow, previously unexplored data can present new opportunities for greater insight into customer behavior. Advanced analytics techniques combining both structured and unstructured data can shine a light on the dark data that accumulates in log files and archives.

Big Data Analytics In The Real World: Focus First on Customer InsightTo successfully mine these and other potential sources of business information, organizations will need data scientists who combine advanced analytics skills with deep industry knowledge. Talent of this caliber is rare and may require years of development beyond the formal training available in recently-established data science programs.

As demand for advanced analytical skills grows, your big data blueprint needs to look beyond the technology infrastructure to include provisions for talent recruitment and development of existing resources.

Where to Begin?

The authors of the study provide general recommendations based on an organization’s place on the big data adoption curve. The continuum ranges from the early stages of education and exploration to the more mature phases of engagement and execution.

Learn where your organization falls on the path to big data adoption and what steps to take on your progression to the next level of maturity. Download the executive report: Analytics: The Real World Use of Big Data (registration required).