UK organisations are falling their behind French and German peers in big data analytics, but see themselves as being ahead.
Research among 300 senior IT executives carried out by OnePoll and sponsored by data warehouse technology and services supplier Teradata has revealed that British firms are less creative in the application of data analytics techniques, less innovative in business conception, and more siloed in technology mentality than their continental cousins.
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British IT executives seem to be more drawn to the view that doing big data means employing MapReduce and NoSQL specialists rather than taking a “holistic view of how new data types can be joined to relational data”, said Duncan Ross, director, data science at Teradata. MapReduce is a programming model for large-scale data processing, and the Hadoop framework is an example of it.
Ross added: “It is possible that this is a side-effect of the UK being slightly ahead of Europe on the big data bandwagon, and seeing it more as a technology-focused activity than a business one.
“If you see your, say, Hadoop implementation as a standalone system, then joining to existing data is not an issue. What we might be seeing here is a new wave of siloisation, which would be retrograde.”
New data types
The OnePoll survey found that 20% of respondents in the UK were using three or more types of new data compared with 48% in France and Germany. New data means sources such as text, video, audio, social media data and machine data.
UK companies are less likely to be considering two or more analysis techniques (33%) than their counterparts in France and Germany (47%).
Defining and understanding new data is the problem most commonly identified by UK businesses (42%), but for those in Germany and France, it is joining new data to existing relational data. More than half of respondents in Germany identified this as a difficulty and 65% said so in France.
UK respondents saw their current data analysis activities as market-leading, with a quarter describing their company’s position as “advanced” and 24% claiming they were “truly innovative” or “market-leading”.
For more on big data in Europe
Their continental counterparts were more modest. Just 17% in Germany regarded their company as “advanced”, compared with 25% of UK and French executives. Also, 5% in Germany and 7% in France thought their business was either “truly innovative” or “market-leading” in new data analytics.
Ross interpreted the gap between perception and reality as due to the UK being ahead of the European mainland in big data technology adoption, closely following the US. He speculated that the French and Germans were taking a more rounded, business-led view of the analysis of big data, rather than getting carried away with the Hadoop technology stack.
“We [in the UK] seem to be taking the approach of putting on some MapReduce and a NoSQL database and not doing much analytics afterwards,” he said. “The use of statistical analysis is low [UK 13%, Germany 49%, France 45%].”
Kevin Long, business development director at Teradata, said: “In the UK, market people will do their best to talk about, say, [open-source data warehouse system] Hive. They don’t want to seem to be behind the curve.”
Why data analytics?
The survey revealed differences in the drivers for analytics, with 38% of UK companies reporting that data analytics will enable them to be more efficient by completing existing tasks better or more quickly. For businesses in France and Germany, the emphasis was on doing new things: 54% in France and 62% in Germany said new data analytics will allow them to undertake new projects more efficiently than before.
Ross said: “Worryingly, this survey suggests that UK companies are falling behind their competitors in Germany and France in the use of the new types of big data and the evolving techniques of analysis.”
He added that some of Teradata’s German manufacturing clients “are doing a range of things with sensor data, not just in the maintenance cycle, but in design and development”.
Companies in France and Germany attach more importance to efficiency gains than those in the UK. Some 57% of those polled in France and Germany said their goal in using new data analytics is to “increase efficiency and reduce people time”. In the UK. 24% chose this as an aim.
Twice as many executives in Germany (44%) put social media data as a priority, compared with 22% in the UK%. In France, the figure was 35%.
UK respondents reported finding people with big data technology skills to be less of a problem than their French and German peers. In Germany and France, 67% reported problems with skills and tools for new data types, compared with 41% in the UK.
Long concluded: “UK firms are not having problems finding people, but it is interesting that the French and Germans said competitive differentiation was the reason for their big data programmes, whereas the British are responding to specific business pressures.”