Big Data – Or Big Hype?

Big Data is not making users any more productive, warns Nobby Akiha, senior vice-president of marketing at leading Open Source Business Intelligence vendor Actuate. Enhanced visualization and analytics on a scalable business platform is where the real action lies

Business users of data have been suffering from information overload for decades. So why should they be at all impressed with all the current hype about ‘Big Data’?Nobby Akiha

It’s actually leaving the majority cold. Managers ask do they really want to be deluged by even more data when they’re already time-pressed? The fact that infinitely-scalable, Cloud-based Big Data platforms like Hadoop exist now to capture, store and interrogate Terabyte upon Terabyte of data is exciting up to a point. But organisations need to be highly cautious that use of these online platforms isn’t storing up more problems than they are solving.

From big telcos to midsized banks and beyond, organisations are being seduced by Hadoop and other online platforms that promise cheap data processing. They see the facilities as the key to their un-mined data assets that for so long have resided in silos across their fragmented operations. Finally, they think, here is a place to put all of that miscellaneous customer data, social media information, and historical financial data: a single repository and unlimited data warehouse facility. But then what?

The fact that data can be collated from every corner of the business and can be sliced and diced is all well and good, but unless all of that billion-byte-flexing processing prowess can be harnessed to serve up relevant, actionable insight at the point and time of need, it’s as worthless as all those filing cabinets stored in the basement.

Data of any kind, or kinds, is of no value unless someone is going to do something with it, and it is this explicit intention that should drive what happens to the data. Just because an organisation has been able to capture and store several billion Twitter feeds, or the content of 10 years’ worth of billing history, doesn’t mean that company is going to be any more responsive to its customers.

Predictive is less restrictive
That’s why my organisation, as a leading Business Intelligence vendor, has chosen to go down the advanced visualization and predictive analytics route instead as we feel these are the ways to genuinely help customers and prospective customers navigate through those mountains of Big Data.

Only when data can provide reliable, timely answers to specific user questions does ‘big data’ treatment begin to present any worth to a business. Of course, users don’t always know what information they want in order to ask the right questions. Sometimes they need to see a sample of what’s possible before they can envision their requirements.

What organisations need is a way to distil data in order to create meaningful information which in turn builds insights and inspires new questions. To elicit real business value, and currency, from these various data sources (Big or otherwise), organisations need a number of core elements. Most notably these include a reporting and visulaization platform that is as dynamic, responsive, flexible and scalable as their chosen data storage and processing infrastructure, and one that doesn’t need to be pre-programmed and can react to the questions users are asking – today, and tomorrow – as well as serve up easily digestible, reliable, actionable insights that ensure business can move forward.
One key element is clever predictive analytics from our partner KXEN.

Analytic statistics
Systems of this class act as a sophisticated and powerful tool for business improvement and planning. They allow managers to work out what the impact of a change in business process/resource will be before it is implemented, They take your content and allow you to model practically anything that can happen in the business, allowing you to understand for example, the impact of changes in resources and types of customer all the way to mapping the impact of adding new products and services to changing the way a business is organised. Predictive analytics also help managers create business plans and fine-tune the implementation of best practice.

Dynamic flexibility can never be under-rated

There are other considerations, too. IT departments can no longer predetermine how users will need to interact with content, or on which devices, which in turn affects presentation formats. Dashboards and drill-down facilities can work well on a browser on a PC or laptop, but on the smaller screen of a mobile device, for example, a interface that works with touch and gestures may be needed.
Dynamic flexibility, in other words, is what is needed. A business user must be able to access relevant, timely insights anytime and anywhere they want – whether at their office desktop, home laptop, work tablet or personal iPhone or Android device. Similarly, even if a massive online data storage and processing infrastructure like Hadoop is part of the picture, the chances are that other contributing sources of content will exist in tandem with it, almost certainly in the form of ‘traditional’ relational databases and document archive formats. All of this rich data legacy must be catered for.

To elicit real business value from all these various (Big) Data sources, organisations need a number of core elements. These include a reporting and visualization platform that is as dynamic, responsive, flexible and scalable as the chosen data storage and processing infrastructure requires; one that also doesn’t need to be pre-programmed but which can react to the questions users are asking – today, and tomorrow – to serve up fresh, easily digestible, reliable, actionable insights that ensure the business can seize opportunities as they come along.

There is no doubt that the discipline of enterprise data management has changed forever. Content is expanding and diversifying at a startling rate, now comprising assets that take multiple different forms and all this data needs to be amalgamated, analysed and served back to users in a meaningful way that’s of timely business value. Employees expect it and competitive pressures demand it. In a word, we all now live in a place called ‘workplace.com’.

With a customer, supplier or senior manager on the phone who needs answers yesterday, they are understandably mystified on finding that the figures they need aren’t immediately to hand. Without a dynamic visualisation layer and the ability to run predictive models, data is a lot like all that money in NatWest current accounts has been lately – worth a lot if only it could be extracted.

The point is to use something to get a handle at last on all that Big Data.
Nobby Akiha is Senior Vice President of Marketing at Business Intelligence (BI) specialist Actuate www.actuate.com; [email protected]

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