Analytics and Big Data

By Tony Lock

‘Big Data’ is a hot topic receiving considerable attention from the marketing departments of IT vendors. Freeform Dynamics has recently published two papers exploring many facets of Big Data and analytics based on responses to a web survey. The first of these looked at what data sources are important to organisations and how well they are exploiting them whilst the second considered how organisations undertake analytics today and their opinions around all things ‘Big Data’. But is this an area that companies selling to end customers can exploit in the coming months or should you focus elsewhere?

Many of the early advocates of big data solutions stress their abilities to help organisations to gain valuable insight from the very large unstructured sources of data that modern systems generate rapidly, notably Sharepoint, Exchange and other email systems, as well as ‘Internet resources’, log files and expanding social communities. But as Figure 1 shows, whilst unstructured data is important for some, the majority of organisations still hold their most valuable data in structured repositories, especially data bases.

Figure 1

The chat also indicates that the importance of well-established structured data repositories is not expected to alter dramatically in the near future. With many, if not all, organisations needing to improve their services and under pressure to increase their top line revenues there is a clear need to ensure that all sources of data are exploited as fully as possible. So just how thoroughly do organisations manage to exploit these resources today?

Figure 2

The answer for the majority, as shown by Figure 2, is nowhere near well enough. As is clear from the research, fewer than half of respondents indicate they are currently exploiting even their structured information assets anywhere close to as fully as possible. And when it comes to exploiting unstructured data sources over half of those surveyed accept they are doing a poor job.

When working with web based surveys, we know that early adopters and those with a deep-seated interest in the area under study tend to be over-represented compared to the community at large. It is thus very likely that an even greater proportion of organisations need help analysing the information sources they already hold, even before they seek to address ‘big data’ opportunities. Thus, there is likely to be considerable opportunity for channel resellers to add considerable value to their customer base.

So how can channel partners selling to end customers take advantage of this information? Certainly the area of training is one obvious candidate that cannot be overlooked. That said, experience tells us that even in the best of economic times budgets for training can be very difficult to get approved unless an extremely strong business case can be made or regulatory requirements necessitate.

Beyond this obvious opportunity the rapid development of data focussed technologies are perceived by IT professionals to hold significant potential.

Figure 3

Figure 3 indicates that more than half respondents understand that developments in the areas of advanced storage and analytics are already providing the opportunity to address business problems that were previously either too difficult or expensive to consider. Perhaps even more significantly, the research also indicates that these developments are recognised to provide the opportunity to tackle key issues in entirely new ways.

Given that many of these solutions are relatively recent developments it is fair to assume that many organisations will require help to implement such systems as rapidly as possible and to exploit them to the fullest. Indeed, given the likely ‘early adopter’ nature of many respondents there is a strong possibility that many, more main-stream, organisations will also need guidance to understand what new solutions may be suited to their needs.

Beyond this there is little doubt that many organisations may also require considerable help making a business case. It is likely this should prove to be more straightforward for the better exploitation of structured data assets that today constitute the bulk of the recognised valuable data resources. Working out the business case and how to extract value from unstructured data sources will, in most cases, require even greater assistance from channel partners, as many organisations have yet to get to grips with the potential opportunities. Indeed, the survey indicates that there could be immediate opportunity helping optimise business analytics run against existing RDBMS data repositories, potentially using OLAP, in-memory or HP-RDBMS solutions.


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Tony is an IT operations guru. As an ex-IT manager with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, his extensive vendor briefing agenda makes him one of the most well informed analysts in the industry, particularly on the diversity of solutions and approaches available to tackle key operational requirements. If you are a vendor talking about a new offering, be very careful about describing it to Tony as ‘unique’, because if it isn’t, he’ll probably know.