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Big Data Study Reveals Enterprise Attitudes, Engagement, and Challenges

Results of a survey by IT industry association CompTIA shows that enterprises recognize data as a corporate asset and understand the benefits of managing and exploiting big data.

Data is the new currency in the digital economy. How valuable that currency is, and how enterprises are building their currency's strength, is made clear in the second annual "Big Data Insights and Opportunities" survey conducted by IT industry non-profit association CompTIA. In the group's latest report, just released, three-quarters of 500 respondents admit that "data is one of my firm's greatest assets", and nearly as many (74 percent) say "we need much better real-time analysis of incoming data." The report also reveals that interest in big data and its benefits is high, but enterprises are still in the very early stages of adoption.

Using an online survey in June, CompTIA found that nearly eight in 10 executives (those responsible for technical or strategic decisions involving data at their organization) agree that harnessing all of their enterprise data would result in a stronger business. The survey also found that 93 percent of survey participants say data is critically important to their business; the same percent believe it will be important in 2014 as well.

Enterprises know they need to unlock the value lying within their data, and if they poorly execute the management and analysis of that data, the consequences of falling behind could include "lower productivity, lack of business agility, internal confusion over priorities, and reduced margins due to operational inefficiencies."

In fact, 57 percent of respondents in mid-size firms say that as a result of shortcomings in their management and use of data, they waste time (44 percent of small firms cite this). In mid-size firms, 46 percent report internal confusion about priorities (a problem for 34 percent of small firms); 40 percent believe they've lost sales (23 percent for small firms).

Only 18 percent of respondents overall admit that their business is "exactly where they want to be in managing and using data." Three-quarters say they are very or moderately close, down slightly (from 78 percent) from the last year's survey. The good news is familiarity with the concept of big data is growing, to 76 percent this year (up from 55 percent last year).

Organizations aren't standing still: 42 percent of respondents say they are engaged in some kind of big data initiative, up from 19 percent in last year's report. The report says the figure may be high because of confusion or how respondents define big data.

We asked Tim Herbert, vice president, research and market intelligence, at CompTIA about these figures. He explained that the study "didn't specifically try to quantify the stage of big data adoption, but we can probably infer many companies are in the information gathering or evaluation stages, which will likely lead to further gains in adoption.

"While businesses may have a better understanding of big data concepts, for many, it's premature to pursue a big data-oriented initiative without first addressing foundational issues such as the 'what, where, how, who and why' of existing data sets. This background work, along with identifying and prioritizing business objectives that have a data component, will ensure companies are better positioned to pursue data initiatives that match their needs."

Converting large data volumes into actionable intelligence remains a challenge for 73 percent of respondents, and over half (53 percent) say they have more data than they know what to do with.

How big is the big data market? "Sizing the big data market presents a number of challenges," the study admits, in part because there is no standard definition of how you define the market; for example, how much of an enterprise's storage, data management, or analytics revenue (for example) should be allocated to the market.

We asked Herbert about these widely varying estimates in the big data market. "At a top level, the definition of big data put forth by the Meta Group in 2001 is increasingly viewed as the consensus definition within the IT industry. It defines big data as a volume, velocity, and variety of data that exceeds an organization's storage, compute, or management capacity for accurate and timely decision-making. Some pundits expand the definition to include data veracity and value," Herbert says.

"For market sizing purposes, there are a range of opinions on what aspects of big data should be included and/or excluded. Similar to the early days of cloud computing, it typically takes a few years for classification consistency to permeate the market." Herbert points out that big data isn't the same for all companies, and putting a number to how big "big" is can be problematic.

"The other aspect of the definition that will continue to evolve relates to its relevancy to small and medium-size businesses. Using an absolute interpretation of the big data definition (e.g., a threshold of X terabytes) may suggest big data is not relevant to sizable segments of the SMB market. CompTIA takes a broader view and posits that businesses of all sizes seek to unlock value from their data, regardless of whether it's on a large scale or small scale. In this sense, big data can be thought of as a proxy for data challenges involving volume, velocity, or variety."

Did Herbert find any surprises in the survey's results? "Similar to the last year, the research reveals a number of data-related challenges that could be characterized as fairly basic. For example, only one in three companies report excelling at e-mail marketing campaign analytics. In contrast, 42 percent indicate they want to do a better job in this area. Similarly, 28 percent report doing a good job with website traffic pattern analytics, while 47 percent want to improve in some way (e.g., speed, reporting, or depth of analysis).

"These examples highlight the importance of thinking about big data in terms of everyday data problems, no matter the size or scope. For a small or medium-size business, improving e-mail marketing campaign effectiveness by 10 percent or improving ecommerce by 10 percent may be viewed as worthwhile 'wins,' further reminder that not every data initiative needs to tackle a massively complicated problem."

Herbert highlighted another trend that he says is surprising now but becoming less so: the degree to which technology initiatives are being driven by business executives rather than the CIO or IT department.

"The CompTIA research confirmed many data initiatives are spearheaded by the CEO, head of sales, head of marketing, or other line of business executive. While the CIO/IT departments are typically involved in some way, data-related initiatives -- possibly more so than other technology initiatives -- will require a more coordinated effort throughout the organization."

We asked Herbert what conclusions he could draw from the survey or any trends seen from last year's report.

"Seventy-eight percent of respondents indicate they now feel more positive about the concepts associated with big data compared to a year ago. Additionally, more businesses report being closer to meeting their data-related goals this year compared to last year.

"At the same time, many companies are still in the process of evaluating the state of data at their organization. Nearly eight in ten executives cite the need for better real-time analytics and improvement in converting data into actionable intelligence. A similar number of firms report having some degree of data silos and shadow data repositories, making it difficult to efficiently manage and leverage their data."

Herbert summed it up this way: "The overall takeaway: a degree of progress has been made on the data front, but most companies still have a lot of work to do before then can fully realize the benefits of big data-oriented initiatives."

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