Big opportunity, big dilemma

By Stephen Prentice
18 Aug 2011 View Comments
Gartner's Stephen Prentice

“Big data” describes the increasingly data-rich landscape of tomorrow, but it focuses attention on volume alone, and away from aspects such as variety, velocity and complexity. Big data reflects a significant disruption, and represents a huge opportunity that public sector, business and IT leaders must not ignore.

Big data is an immediate problem that is already affecting traditional understanding and business models. In the future, the full range of “extreme information management” issues - of which volume is just one aspect - will pose even greater challenges, but also enable the emergence of even more significant business opportunities. By sweeping away current limitations derived from data constraints and exploiting a growing universe of publicly available data from external sources, a new era of digitally accelerated business models is emerging that has the potential for substantive new revenue and competitive advantage.

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Gartner urges CIOs to take a more entrepreneurial role in the business, potentially initiating new business ideas and actively driving new revenue streams, rather than relegating their IT organisations to a largely reactive role in a supporting function. The deep technology basis of big data represents exactly the type of technology-enabled new business opportunity that offers the CIO an almost limitless platform to develop competitive advantage and new revenue.

Big data poses a significant dilemma for CEOs and business leaders because the investment required in emergent technology and the rapidly evolving discovery of the technical issues represent not only a substantial investment but also a significant risk. However, Gartner advises that big data will represent a hugely disruptive force during the next five years, enabling levels of insight into customer demands that are currently unachievable.

Additionally, the ability to mine data at this scale will provide a quantitatively greater understanding of the underlying physical, societal, financial and business environment. Organisations that successfully master the technical challenges will find themselves better equipped, with more accurate data about the present, and able to create more accurate forecasts. For the leaders, it will present an almost prescient ability to spot subtle changes in dynamic and volatile markets, and make the right choices to be able to benefit from their new knowledge.

But new skills in interpretation and a willingness to trust the data will need to be acquired. Big data can deliver both, but only for organisations that invest the necessary resources in business processes, management actions and technology to master this trend.

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