Get Smart: A Crash Course on Big Data and Analytics

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The Wire recently reported that ‘Big Data’ was one of the most overused corporate buzzwords in 2013. The usage of the term on investor presentations and conference calls increased by 43% this past year. Of course, The Wire also correctly pointed out that the phrase is often misused.

People may think they understand the definition of big data and analytics, but all too often, they do not. Technical jargon is often infused with language that has little meaning. Phrases such as big data, predictive modeling, optimization, segmentation, clustering and social business all mean different things (if anything at all) to different people. Although these expressions may be useful marketing terminology, most people struggle when forced to give a concrete definition.

So how does someone quickly “get smart” on big data and analytics? How can you rapidly learn the basic methods for driving value across your organization by leveraging the power of data? If you want to save yourself a lot of wasted time and effort, I propose reading these three white papers:

Analytics: The New Path to Value – How the smartest organizations are embedding analytics to transform insights into action. This is one of my favorites. The study describes five recommendations for increasing the success of an analytics program. In particular the three-step process of (a) Documenting your business processes and desired business outcomes; (b) Identifying how analytics can improve the desired outcomes; and (c) Embedding the insights into the operations is a simple, yet highly effective method.

Analytics: The Real-World Use of Big Data – How innovative enterprises extract value from uncertain data. As discussed, companies use the term “big data” to convey all sorts of ideas ranging from huge quantities of data to social media analytics to next-generation data management capabilities. Regardless of the label, companies are starting to understand and explore these technologies to process and analyze a vast array of information in new ways. Some are achieving breakthrough business outcomes. This report examines key trends within the industry.

Analytics: A Blueprint for Value – Converting big data and analytics insights into results. What are the best performing analytic organizations doing that the lower performing businesses are not? Well, over 50% of the Leaders (outperforming organizations) identified in this study had a cross-enterprise big data and analytics strategy, promoting collaboration and teaming across business lines and functions. By comparison, only 20 % of non-leading organizations have done the same. Then why isn’t everyone doing it? The answer is simple: it is hard. This study identifies that key to creating value through big data and analytics is ensuring that trust between people is strong.

At the end of the day, the most effective way I have found to discuss big data or almost any other technical catch phrase with a client is to focus directly on the business benefits rather than concentrating on the technology itself. By relentlessly honing in on the desired business outcomes, and then cross-mapping how technology can assist in driving those results, you typically find the most cost-effective solution for your program.

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About the Author,

Steve Harvey is the Worldwide Leader for Technology and Analytics across IBM's Business Process Outsourcing unit.


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