There’s always been plenty of data around, but only recently have the infogurus started talking about “big data”— really big data— as a burgeoning phenomenon, and a “key strategic business asset of the future.” Assuming, that is, that you know how to manage it. According to InfoWorld:
Big data really is different from the data warehousing, data mining and business intelligence analysis that have come before it. Data is being generated with greater velocity and variability than ever before, and, unlike data in the past, most of it is unstructured and raw (sometimes called “gray data”).
What should you be doing today to get ready for the big data challenges on the horizon?
Take Stock of Your Data
“Nearly every organization potentially has access to a steady stream of unstructured data — whether it’s pouring in from social media networks or from sensors monitoring a factory floor. But just because an organization is producing this fire hose of information, that doesn’t mean there’s a business imperative to save and act on every byte…. A good first step is to take stock of what data is created internally and determine what external data sources, if any, would fill in knowledge gaps and bring added insight to the business.”
Let Business Needs Drive Data Dives
“Many of the initial big-data opportunities have been seeded in areas outside of IT. Marketing, for example, has been early to tap into social media streams to gain better insights into customer requirements and buying trends. While the business side may understand the opportunities, it is IT’s responsibility to take charge of the data sharing and data federation concepts that are part and parcel of a big-data strategy.”
Re-evaluate Infrastructure and Data Architecture
“Big data will require major changes in both server and storage infrastructure and information management architecture at most companies. IT managers need to be prepared to expand the IT platform to deal with the ever-expanding stores of both structured and unstructured data. That requires figuring out the best approach to making the platform both extensible and scalable and developing a roadmap for integrating all of the disparate systems that will be the feeders for the big-data analysis effort.”
Bone Up on the Technology
“Open-source technology is getting most of the attention with technologies like Hadoop, MapReduce, and NoSQL taking credit for helping Web-based giants like Google and Facebook churn through their reservoirs of big data. Many of these technologies, while starting to be offered in more commercial forms, are still fairly immature and require people with very specific skills sets…IT managers and their staffs need to dive in and at least familiarize themselves with these new tools in order to be properly situated to make big-data decisions going forward.”
Prepare to Hire or Retrain Staff
“Most IT organizations are sorely lacking the right talent to take the next steps with big data. The analytic skill sets are perhaps the most crucial, and they represent the area where the gap is currently largest. McKinsey projects that in the U.S. alone, there will be a need by 2018 for between 140,000 and 190,000 additional experts in statistical methods and data-analysis technologies, including the widely hyped emerging role of data scientist.”