Users of big data analytics are finally going public. At the Hadoop Summit last June, many vendors were still speaking of a large retailer or a big bank as users but could not publically disclose their partnerships.

Companies experimenting with big data analytics felt that their proof of concept was so innovative that once it moved into production, it would yield a competitive advantage to the early mover. Now many companies are speaking openly about what they have been up to in their business laboratories. I look forward to attending the 2013 Hadoop Summit in San Jose to see how much things have changed in just a single year for Hadoop centered big data analytics.

Our benchmark research into operational intelligence, which I argue is another name for real-time big data analytics, shows diversity in big data analytics use cases by industry. The goals of operational intelligence are an interesting mix as the research shows relative parity among managing performance (59%), detecting fraud and security (59%), complying with regulations (58%) and managing risk (58%), but when we drill down into different industries there are some interesting nuances. For instance, healthcare and banking are driven much more by risk and regulatory compliance, services such as retail are driven more by performance, and manufacturing is driven more by cost reduction. All of these make sense given the nature of the businesses. Let’s look at them in more detail.

The retail industry, driven by market forces and facing discontinuous change, is adopting big data analytics out of competitive necessity. The discontinuity comes in the form of online shopping and the need for traditional retailers to supplement their brick-and-mortar locations. JCPenney and Macy’s provide a sharp contrast in how two retailers approached this challenge. A few years ago, the two companies eyed a similar competitive space, but since that time, Macy’s has implemented systems based on big data analytics and is now sourcing locally for online transactions and can optimize pricing of its more than 70 million SKUs in just one hour using SAS High Performance Analytics. The Macy’s approach has, in Sun-Tzu like fashion, made the “showroom floor” disadvantage into a customer experience advantage. JCPenney, on the other hand, used gut-feel management decisions based on classic brand merchandising strategies and ended up alienating its customers and generating law suits and a well-publicized apology to its customers. Other companies including Sears are doing similarly innovative work with suppliers such as Teradata and innovative startups like Datameer in data hub architectures build around Hadoop.

Healthcare is another interesting market for big data, but the dynamics that drive it are less about market forces and more about government intervention and compliance issues. Laws around HIPPA, the recent Healthcare Affordability Act, OC-10 and the HITECH Act of 2009 all have implications for how these organizations implement technology and analytics. Our recent benchmark research on governance, risk and compliance indicates that many companies have significant concerns about compliance issues: 53 percent of participants said they are concerned about them, and 42 percent said they are very concerned. Electronic health records (EHRs) are moving them to more patient-centric systems, and one goal of the Affordable Care Act is to use technology to produce better outcomes through what it calls meaningful use standards. Facing this tidal wave of change, companies including IBM analyze historical patterns and link it with real-time monitoring, helping hospitals save the lives of at-risk babies. This use case was made into a now-famous commercial by advertising firm Ogilvy about the so-called data babies. IBM has also shown how cognitive question-and-answer systems such as Watson assist doctors in diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Data blending, the ability to mash together different data sources without having to manipulate the underlying data models, is another analytical technique gaining significant traction. Kaiser Permanente is able to use tools from Alteryx, which I have assessed, to consolidate diverse data sources, including unstructured data, to streamline operations to improve customer service. The two organizations made a joint presentation similar to the one here at Alteryx’s user conference in March.

Financial services, which my colleague Robert Kugel covers, is being driven by a combination of regulatory forces and competitive market forces on the sales end. Regulations produce a lag in the adoption of certain big data technologies, such as cloud computing, but areas such as fraud and risk management are being revolutionized by the ability, provided through in-memory systems, to look at every transaction rather than only a sampling of transactions through traditional audit processes. Furthermore, the ability to pair advanced analytical algorithms with in-memory real-time rules engines helps detect fraud as it occurs, and thus criminal activity may be stopped at the point of transaction. On a broader scale, new risk management frameworks are becoming the strategic and operational backbone for decision-making in financial services.

On the retail banking side, copious amounts of historical customer data from multiple banking channels combined with government data and social media data are providing banks the opportunity to do micro-segmentation and create unprecedented customer intimacy. Big data approaches to micro-targeting and pricing algorithms, which Rob recently discussed in his blog on Nomis, enable banks and retailers alike to target individuals and customize pricing based on an individual’s propensity to act. While partnerships in the financial services arena are still held close to the vest, the universal financial services providers – Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo – are making considerable investments into all of the above-mentioned areas of big data analytics.

Industries other than retail, healthcare and banking are also seeing tangible value in big data analytics. Governments are using it to provide proactive monitoring and responses to catastrophic events. Product and design companies are leveraging big data analytics for everything from advertising attribution to crowdsourcing of new product innovation. Manufacturers are preventing downtime by studying interactions within systems and predicting machine failures before they occur. Airlines are recalibrating their flight routing systems in real time to avoid bad weather. From hospitality to telecommunications to entertainment and gaming, companies are publicizing their big data-related success stories.

Our research shows that until now, big data analytics has primarily been the domain of larger, digitally advanced enterprises. However, as use cases make their way through business and their tangible value is accepted, I anticipate that the activity around big data analytics will increase with companies that reside in the small and midsize business market. At this point, just about any company that is not considering how big data analytics may impact its business faces an unknown and uneasy future. What a difference a year makes, indeed.

This blog originally appeared at Ventana Research.