Most executives recognise that the vast amounts of data coming into their organisation can be used to make the business better, but few are taking full advantage.
Two-thirds of executives in CompTIA’s recent US study Big Data Insights and Opportunities said that if they could harness all of their data, they would have a much stronger business.
Big data is a great example of what everyone in IT is always talking about – moving IT from a backroom function to a strategic part of the business. Big data analysis is becoming big, and much has been written about all the opportunities it offers – but it can only be done if the right strategy and policy are in place.
Underpinning all of this is the need for a clear view of what you want to achieve with data, which usually falls under areas such as better customer insight, streamlining processes, spotting anomalies, or making predictions.
Once you have established that, it’s time to get everything in place to meet those goals. First you need to look at what data you can use. What data do you have already? Can you get more by changing your sales process, buying in data or harnessing publicly available data?
Big data tools and techniques
Big data is not just about IT, so get input from sales people, human resources, and any IT user about how you could collect more data or use it more effectively. Look at what data you can get, what you are able to use, and how that can help your business. Be ambitious, but realistic.
Next you need to look at what analytics tools you can use. There are a number of organisations providing these, too many to cover here, and they need to be considered carefully. Data comes in many different forms and formats. Unless you are very clear what you want, open source approaches which don’t limit you to a specific supplier are often a sensible move.
The point of big data is to allow those analysing it to spot new opportunities, do things more efficiently or identify problems early
John McGlinchey, CompTIA
Don’t be too wowed by sparkly technology. Make sure any supplier understands your broader business goals. Big data is a primarily a business solution, not a technical one.
A new data policy may mean much more data coming into your organisation. Make sure you have sufficient storage and data is all securely backed up.
Probably the most important part of any data policy is privacy. Some customers may not be happy their data is being used. You must clearly explain on your site (or wherever the data is gathered) what your plans are and offer an opt-out option – Tesco is a good example of this.
Even where you are using anonymised data, this is good practice for avoiding adverse customer reactions or negative publicity. This is doubly important if you plan to pass on data to third parties – even if they are data consultants.
You need to make sure data is kept secure throughout the process. The same rules apply as for any security policy. Get trained, certified security staff to ensure technical security is in place. Set up access levels, with requisite requirements. Those with the highest access level should be certified in data handling.
Work with your security professionals to devise a policy handbook about how the data can be used – nothing illegal; data encrypted if transported; only stored on authorised secure devices. You’d be surprised how often the obvious stuff is overlooked.
Read more on big data
Don’t forget to tell everyone about it. For people working with the data, training on new software and systems is important. Make sure they sign something to show they agree to the policy and will treat the data securely. Everyone involved must read the part of the policy handbook that applies to them – being made aware of what data they are collecting and what they should and shouldn’t do with it – before being let loose on the data.
Make your big data policy pay off
Once you have implemented your policy, keep it up to date. Assign responsibility for this to a specific person – someone who understands technology and business. They should be responsible for constantly reviewing whether you have the right technology, whether it is working for you and whether skills are up to date to meet the business goals.
The point of big data is to allow those analysing it to spot new opportunities, do things more efficiently or identify problems early. They can only do this if the underlying system is run properly. This means the right data is gathered, and correctly broken down.
They will be seriously undermined by security breaches, technical failures or rejection from staff or customers. Getting the right technology and training in place all backed by a sound policy which is communicated across the business will be vital in effectively harnessing big data.
John McGlinchey (pictured) is vice-president for Europe and the Middle East at CompTIA
This was first published in February 2013