As any CIO operating in today’s business environment will tell you, the term ‘Big Data’ is anything but a misnomer. By some estimates, more than a zettabyte (that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) of information now circulates around the internet. And while that may seem like a lot to consume, current estimates suggest that the quantity of data available to businesses will increase by 40 per cent every year for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, the problem now facing CIOs is not how to gather more data, but rather how to turn the data that already exists into meaningful business intelligence that can drive business decision making. In fact, to be successful in today’s marketplace, CIOs must now focus on enabling the needs of the organisation through analytics while also keeping the lid on the explosion in data volumes, variety and velocity.

Buried in bits and bytes

But instead, most CIOs find themselves drowning in data and – with no clear processes for converting it into actionable insights – the line of sight between data and the business’ strategic priorities is rapidly being blurred.

The time has come for CIOs to stop the organisation from choking on their Big Data and – instead – start consuming it. In fact, those organisations still engaged in the ‘data arms race’ to collect ever-greater volumes of information are likely fighting a losing battle. In today’s data-heavy world, companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook already know more about most companies’ customers than they do themselves. The trick, therefore, is not to collect more data than your competitors, but rather to be wiser about both the type of information being collected and the way it is utilised within the organisation.

Clarity and capability

To do this, CIOs will need to spend much more time working with the business intelligence function to help their organisation become crystal clear about which data-driven processes are actually fundamental to the business and the way it operates, and then build the appropriate governance and management capabilities to ensure these processes are prioritised and effective.

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Equally critical will be the ability to identify what data is generated from reliable internal sources and what data comes from external providers such as social media sources or data aggregators. The fact is that not all data is business-critical – some is utterly useless – and understanding and channelling the valuable data from the detritus will be a key challenge for CIOs and their organisations going forward.

Likely the biggest challenge facing today’s CIO, however, is one of skills and capability. And while some CIOs are looking to off-the-shelf ‘analytics solutions’ to automatically and miraculously generate valuable insight, the reality is that true data-driven value will require new capabilities and expertise in order to give data relevance and apply the resulting insight to generating successful business outcomes.

According to analysts, the enterprise is facing a yawning gap between demand and capability that – in the US alone – will require some 1.5 million data-savvy managers and analysts to fill. In other words, those that hope to convert their data into business value must first start by identifying and securing sufficient and experienced resources to dig out from the data avalanche.

Based on our experience working with businesses around the world to develop and maintain competitive advantage from their Big Data, we believe that CIOs must stop trying to fatten the data elephant and, instead, focus on developing their recipes for turning Big Data into consumable business intelligence.

Big Challenges from Big Data

  • Turning Big Data detritus into valuable data-driven processes.
  • Identifying which data delivers value and which only adds complexity to analysis.
  • Embedding analytics into the corporate culture.
  • Confirming the veracity of externally sourced data.
  • Ensuring value from IT data investments.
  • Engaging and managing outsourced analytics providers.
  • Increasing the flow of value-added data and analysis.
  • Identifying and retaining the right skills and capabilities.
  • Understanding the implications of Big Data for technology infrastructure.
  • Leveraging Big Data to improve financial planning, business performance management and financial consolidation.

By Bryan Cruickshank and Eddie Short, KPMG in the UK