Can big data really deliver what it promises – the insights businesses need to leave the competition trailing in their wake? The latest evidence is exciting: Senior leaders in organizations using big data report satisfaction with the results.

Recent research from Accenture Analytics reveals that 59 percent of executives in companies using big data now regard big data as “extremely important” to their organizations, while a further 34 percent describe it as “important.”

They are right to prioritize big data: Nine in 10 of the executives surveyed – mainly chief information officers, chief operating officers, chief data officers, chief analytics officers, chief marketing officers, and chief financial officers – said they are happy with the business outcomes.

Those outcomes cover a wide range of strategic corporate goals – everything from identifying new revenue sources to transforming the customer experience to delivering operational efficiencies.

Size Matters

Larger companies are more enthusiastic about big data – 67 percent of executives from enterprises with annual revenues of over $10 billion consider it “extremely important.” They’re also getting better results. This may be for several reasons. Big companies are more likely to have a deeper understanding of the scope and value of big data; a tighter focus on practical applications and business outcomes; greater commitment in terms of financial resources and human capital; and a keen appreciation of big data’s disruptive power.

However, organizations of all sizes can learn from the early success stories. Successful companies tended to start with small projects; big data initiatives were boosted by strong support from the CIO and the rest of the C-suite; and with value proven in one area, they rolled out big data technologies across the enterprise. Their mantra might be described “start local, think global.”

The experience of a large global retailer is a good example of this evolution. It began its big data work in merchandising, but once the concept was proven, the applications were expanded into the marketing function. After further successes here, big data disciplines were eventually adopted across the whole enterprise.

A Learning Game

As with all new technologies, some organizations are struggling with the challenges of big data. One in two surveyed executives cite security concerns in this respect. Other common anxieties focus on budget constraints, skills shortages and integration with existing systems.

The knowledge necessary to make a success with big data can be acquired. For example, when a national cable television company began rolling out set-top boxes dependent on video-over-IP, it discovered it did not have the functionality to collect and analyze the huge amount of data that streamed into its system continuously. The company since worked with specialists to implement big data tools and applications that enabled the company to perform detailed metrics and analytics on the huge amount of customer information it is now acquiring.

Help is Required

As the cable company discovered, access to expertise and specialist support can make all the difference. Very few companies (no more than five percent) that have installed big data functionality did so using internal resources only; most have looked to consultants or contract employees, or used the resources of their technology vendors.

Talent shortages pose a genuine obstacle to big data implementation. Forty-one percent of executives report their organizations lack the professionals necessary to implement big data and 37 percent struggle with finding the right talent to run big data and analytics on an ongoing basis.

That means companies will have to be imaginative about how they acquire the necessary skills to exploit the technologies’ full potential. Small proof-of-concept projects can be an effective way to acquire knowledge and build skills.

In one example, a B2C e-commerce portal in China put together a team of experts in machine learning, analytics and big data in Asia, Europe and the US – their brief is to extract insights from the portal’s huge online data volume that will generate more valuable customer purchase recommendations.

Disruptive Potential

The survey reveals that early adopters of big data are hugely excited about its prospects – nine in 10 respondents believe big data can revolutionize business the same way the Internet did, and they fully expect big data to change the way they operate. If firms doesn’t take advantage of big data, they acknowledge the risk of losing their competitive position, and possibly even facing extinction.

Businesses that are able to embed a culture of big data across all their functions and operations have an enormous opportunity. Doing so will require a new enterprise IT architecture and, just as significantly, a new way of thinking – data must be seen as an asset.

Companies increasingly understand the imperative for making this shift to big data. If they don’t harness the power of big data first, their competition is likely to leave them standing in their shadows. The threat doesn’t only come from existing rivals – big data can enable fast-moving new entrants into a sector, posing a threat that established companies didn’t see coming.

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