Big Data Summit: Why size isn't everything

By Rachel Fielding
03 Jul 2012 View Comments

Not surprisingly, as with all emerging technology trends, finding people with the requisite skills is proving to be a challenge. Experts predict the role of data scientist will gain traction; typically a role focusing on data acquisition, and tackling complex questions such as ‘what is its value?’ and ‘how do you change a business process based on the information that comes out of that analysis?’.

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“Data architects will also become a real in-demand skill,” Henrys predicts. “Having a consistent cross-organisation data architecture is a cornerstone to success.”

But Professor Mark Whitehorn, chair of analytics at the University of Dundee, said finding the right people to work on Big Data projects was more about finding people with the right mindset and less about finding ‘scientists in white coats’. “They have to be fundamentally curious, communicative and reasonably good with numbers. You can find [them] in your organisation or hire the skills in,” he explained.

Big Data also stresses the need, more than ever, for business and IT to work together. But business-savvy IT staff are proving to be as elusive as ever. “Use of unstructured data demands a set of new skills,” said Alpesh Doshi, a partner at Fintricity, a consultancy specialising in cloud, Big Data, social media and social business. “Insight requires creativity – it’s not just about analysing the data, it’s also about interpreting it.”

Cultural shifts will also be required to embrace Big Data effectively, warned Christine Ashton, regional CIO at BG Group.

“We need to encourage data professionals to spend more of their time analysing data and less time massaging it,” she said. “We also need to have trusted sources of data and let business people play with it. A lot of this is about behaviours and attitudes and the way we divide jobs up.”

Identifying what data is relevant to your business is a good starting point. Bear in mind, experts say that one company’s Big Data is the product of another company’s ‘data exhaust’. “Don’t try to be too ambitious in your business case and build the perfect technology solution. By breaking the problem down, we’ve been able to get a lot more insight,” said Ashton.

Needless to say, you’re not going to find any shrink-wrapped solutions to solve your Big Data problems. “This isn’t just about technology acquisition,” warned Henrys. “There’s a need for a holistic approach and an integrated business and IT strategy for this to really work.”

Information governance in the era of Big Data

Advances in data insight may be the opportunity that growth-hungry businesses have been waiting for, and also offer the potential for public-sector organisations to improve their performance while potentially slashing their costs.

“Big Data offers a new paradigm for how we compete,” said Richard Hammell, lead partner at Deloitte Analytics UK. “It should change the way we interact with customers. Get it right, and you will enter into a new era of competitiveness.”

But this begs the question, as organisations look to exploit information assets, of the extent to which customers are losing control of their own data. Hammell is not alone in expressing concern at the lack of dialogue across both government and business about the implications of Big Data on protecting information assets. “How many companies ask themselves ‘should we?’,” he asked.

David Wilde, CIO of Essex County Council, is confident that the public sector has a good grasp of the privacy issues at stake: “The public sector is familiar with dealing with anonymised and private data. There’s a very strong desire to gain access to very powerful data and the question is how you reconcile that with the right of the individual. We can’t afford to get it wrong once and lose that trust – it’s fundamental to what we do,” he said.

But has the same level of awareness reached the private sector? With new data protection legislation looming, the new requirement for companies with more than 250 employees to have a data protection officer will, experts agree, help to focus minds. And recognition of the reputational damage caused by breaches will, they claim, act as a significant deterrent to falling foul of the law.

As the debates surrounding cookies, pop ups and implied vs explicit consent rage on, the complexity of privacy issues is only set to increase. But Alex Hamilton, principal at law firm doesn’t see it as a show-stopper: “Our experience is that however annoying these regulatory frameworks are, they won’t shut down the world of Big Data,” he said.

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