Opinion

How to manage big data and reap the benefits

Most technical errors originate from human error rather than technical glitch. Even more reason then, for organisations to put governance programmes in place to ensure that with big data comes great reward, rather than incorrect data and unexpected costs.  

This is certainly easier said than done – but not impossible. This article examines the benefits of managing big data and offers tips for staying in control.

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Big data is both a marketing and a technical term that refers to a valuable organisation asset – information. It also represents a trend in technology that is leading the way to a new approach in understanding the world and making business decisions.

These decisions are made based on very large amounts of structured, unstructured and complex data – such as tweets, videos, commercial transactions – which have become difficult to process using basic database and warehouse management tools.

The primary objective of analysing big data is to support organisations in making better business decisions to have a positive effect on:

  • Product development
  • Market development
  • Operational efficiency
  • Customer experience and loyalty
  • Market demand predictions.

When new initiatives, such as adoption of big data, are properly aligned to the business, existing governance structures can be easily adjusted to address security, assurance and a general approach to embracing new technologies.

The Cobit 5 governance framework is a resource that can assist enterprises with this.

Here are seven steps from global IT association Isaca that will help address risk and improve the organisation’s ability to use big data so that it can meet its business objectives:

  1. The concept of big data risk management is still at the infancy stage for many organisations, and data security policies and procedures are still under construction. Provide insight by monitoring all data that runs in the company, and analyse and then take action based on the results.
  2. For data to be used productively, the organisation needs to consider a corporate data lifecycle process. Data quality in any system is a constant battle, and big data systems are no exception. After all, big data insights are only as good as the quality of the data themselves. Certain types of data are business critical, while others are not. Ensure that critical processes get precedence. Figuring out the end goal is vital.
  3. Don’t be afraid to seek the advice and guidance of external data experts when needed. Talk to companies and cloud service integrators, and consider companies that run platforms for big data analytics.
  4. The faster and easier it is to access big data, the greater the risk to all of that valuable information. Organisations must get a proper insight into the performance of their data handling processes to minimise the risks. Don’t forget to check service level agreements with clients and adapt them where necessary.
  5. Make sure your organisation's employees, data, networks, partners and customers are protected end-to-end. To minimise the potential for damage resulting from inaccurate or fraudulent data, organisations need to consider all the data sources they are pulling into their analyses and assess each source for vulnerabilities.
  6. Ensure future-proof systems. This means that not only the right systems, but also the right tools and processes are implemented for big data today and can cope with the inevitable data growth of in the future. Companies should invest in tools that help ensure their data is accurate, up to date and clean at all times. Figure out how you can incorporate what you already have.
  7. Logical and physical access security controls are needed to prevent unauthorised access to sensitive and/or valuable data. Stay informed of the legislative proposals, such as those of the European Commission, and use the opportunity to employ data lifecycle best practices.

The cloud offers a new option in the storage and use of data. The proper controls must be in place to enable businesses to trust cloud service providers with their sensitive and/or valuable data. Ideally, companies start using a private cloud solution and gradually move towards a secure hybrid version.

Big data should be a revenue-enhancing asset, not a revenue-haemorrhaging liability. Organisations must take a good look at their big data opportunity and take steps to manage and manipulate the growing data within the organisation.


Marc Vael is international vice president of Isaca.

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This was first published in June 2013

 

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