Accenture, Detica: Big data to drive business, trigger privacy concerns

Consulting firms Accenture and Detica see the big data wave as rich in new business opportunities, but rank with data privacy concerns.

The big data wave will surface new business opportunities while posing new compliance conundra for corporate organisations, say senior spokespeople for consultancies Accenture and Detica.

Nick Millman, senior director, Accenture Information Management Services, told SearchDataManagementUK that he is seeing an “increasing focus on data governance and data ownership due to information becoming more pervasive, and organisations starting to be more leading edge. It is less about hygiene, and more about governance now” as big data makes itself felt, “from customers and suppliers as well as [internal] financial performance data.” There is, he said, “more thinking about compliance issues.” The more innovative you are about customer data, the more you need to be “cognisant of the regulatory framework you are working in.”

For more on big data and governance

IBM information governance director Sunil Soares addresses big data governance

In this video, Jill Dyché and Kimberley Nevala identify data governance pitfalls

Read this chapter on data governance strategies from Alex Berson and Larry Dubov’s book Master Data Management and Customer Data Integration for a Global Enterprise

Millman believes that more business people have come to realise that information is an asset, with potential competitive edge. They are also cooking up new business models to monetise the information they already have.

“It is clear that big data is coming, it is a reality, but the question is to harness it to turn it into business value," he said. "We are seeing a lot of client conversations around that -- and less from an IT standpoint, more from a business benefit viewpoint.”

This has been so for the last six to 12 months, he added.

There are three levels to it, he went on: “new business models, strategic stuff you can do around bigger and better data sets, and operational stuff specific to different industry areas – for example, churn management optimisation in telcos.”

He confirmed that his firm is having big data conversations with mainstream companies in financial services, oil and gas, and telecoms. While strategies under development are “behind closed doors at present,” they do exist, he said. He also expected the trend for treating data as an asset to survive any economic upswing. “No, once the concept of monetising data has been grasped, it’s too hard to put the genie back in the bottle.”

Millman identified mobile business intelligence and cloud analytics as development areas for Accenture clients. The RBS Six Nations rugby app came from the firm, and Millman sees crossover into BI, in similar vein. He also confirmed that the firm is providing BI and analytics as a service on the cloud.

Steve Shelton, head of data at Detica, a consulting firm subsidiary of BAE systems with a heritage in UK national security, also sees momentum gathering around big data, but said that data privacy concerns could turn it into “big disappointment.”

Like Millman, he reports raised awareness of big data among senior business people, partly provoked by McKinsey’s landmark 2011 report on the topic.

“Data is seen as the as next growth opportunity, especially looking inwards to assets in house, data that is often that untapped.” And so a telco will already have network performance data that may not even be physically stored, but over-written, and could be used to advantage, he said. It will also already have call record details and comments on Web forums that are not being read and integrated to understand customer experience.

Detica has been working with Hadoop technology for around 18 months, he said, and he described the open source framework as opening up low-cost ways of doing big data work less possible by the traditional means of a big enterprise data warehouse.

One drawback of such big data technologies, from a business intelligence viewpoint, is the paucity of skills, said Shelton. The “analyst mind set and the programming skill set is a rare combination. The former needs to win out in the long term, which means training analysts to programme: that is hard. We are [in UK businesses] also going to run out of maths and physics graduates quickly.”

But a bigger issue is governance and security. “Data privacy has not hit big data as much as it yet could,” he said. For example, the right data and technology could work out someone’s location by combining mobile phone call records with cell mast data, tracking movements over a period of time of, say, a celebrity or politician. “People are less tolerant of data breaches, now.”

Another theoretical example is television over IP, which could disclose people’s viewing habits. There might be pressure from advertisers there, he speculated, adding up to a business imperative.

Additionally, security is not as baked in to open source big data technologies as it is to those of the traditional database vendors, he said. He confirmed that there is also a persisting disconnect between data governance and network security, but “we are  starting to see info security officers with tighter remits around data security. Data governance and infosec conversations are taking place among clients -- the biggest heavily involved in adding security to governance.”

He added that the firm has seen a “move away from big consolidated enterprise data warehouses to a hybrid approach. The [architectural] trick is working out what needs to be where. Big data will speed that up.”

Read more on Data quality management and governance