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The potential of big data -- or "the new oil," as some CIOs and industry experts have dubbed it -- seems as endless as it is elusive. Big data campaigns are in their infancy, with enterprises of all stripes figuring out how to use new, old, unstructured and external data to create a competitive strategy.
Even though the ground rules for gathering data and scrutinizing its worth are still taking shape, companies know they need to get in the game. They are collecting and mining data on customers, employees, market dynamics, the weather, you name it, with tools ranging from traditional business intelligence (BI) systems to more experimental ones, such as geospatial and real-time mobile tracking technologies, social media analytics and NoSQL databases.
SearchCIO isn't standing on the sidelines, either. Our Essential Guide on big data includes a primer for getting started with data gathering and analysis, real-world case studies from the CIO and business perspectives, tips on how to overcome obstacles encountered by the big data pioneers, and predictions on the next big data frontier and what it means for competitive strategy.
This guide on the evolution of big data is part of SearchCIO's CIO Briefings series, which is designed to give IT leaders strategic management and decision-making advice on timely topics.
1Big data in traction: The challenges
Statistician Nate Silver, crowned the big data expert by his political colleagues following the 2012 election, believes that while bigger, richer and more granular data sets offer deeper insights and greater business value, they also come with challenges that make uncovering those insights more difficult than before.
Silver unlocked the potential of large data sets when he accurately predicted nearly all of the results of the 2012 presidential campaign. Following on his success, IT leaders are spending more time focusing on competitive strategies for utilizing big data.
Big data challenges explained by Nate Silver
You've worked with your colleagues to identify a business opportunity using big data. You've done the impossible and assembled a team of data scientists. In other words, you've followed the best practices, yet your big data program is still going nowhere. You are not alone. Big data management is hard to do. Read Now
Data silos plague BI efforts
"Out damned silo, out!" has been IT's anguished plea since BI emerged on the scene decades ago. Yet data silos are still an albatross for CIOs, especially in the case of big data. But vanquishing data silos is a risk, as David Gallaher, IT service manager of the National Snow and Ice Data Center for NASA, puts it: "We want to let people look at the data, but we have to make damn sure they can't change it." Read Now
Using data to predict the future poses problems for IT
Now that the volume, velocity and variety of data -- or big data -- are becoming the norm for many businesses, the value of a good predictive analytics practice has appreciated. This is easier said than done, as data scientist from the world's leading universities can attest. Read Now
Data wars on the horizon
Data -- gathering, processing and mining it -- could mean the difference between the haves and the have-nots in terms of productivity and business agility, not to mention profit. To avoid falling into the latter category, CIOs must get their own data house in order before entering the data-gathering battlefield. Read Now
Is personal data privacy at risk with big data?
In the rush to capitalize on big data, privacy issues are often overlooked. They won't be for long. Make sure, as you build a competitive strategy around big data, that you don't expose information unduly. Read Now
2Big data in action: The case studies
For companies such as Land O'Lakes Inc. and its CIO, Barry Libenson, keeping up with an increase in population, and therefore increase in customers, is all about productivity. Using big data and predictive analytics, agricultural companies can utilize valuable information to keep up with changing business environments.
The new initiative not only involves integrating diverse data from disparate sources but also putting sophisticated and easy-to-consume analytics right into the hands of the company's internal sales and marketing team, as well as into the hands of the cooperatives and farmers it distributes to.
'Dirty data' gives Land O'Lakes an advantage
Talk about hitting pay dirt with big data! The IT team at Land O'Lakes used "dirty data," or data that could contain errors, to help its farm customers and leave competitors in the dust. By combining internal customer data with reams of external data, the business can better predict what crops will yield the highest value -- down to the acre. Read Now
3Big data on the horizon
According to our CIO expert Harvey Koeppel, we hear a lot these days about the "Big Data Frontier." By now, we all have a reasonable understanding of what we mean by "big" -- terabytes, petabytes, exabytes and so on. We certainly know what we mean by "data" -- fields, records, files, marts, warehouses, rows, columns, tables, blobs, structured data, unstructured data, etc. But what about the "frontier"?
Koeppel explains that big data will not only help us do a better job of anticipating our future -- it will be a significant enabler in creating our future.
CIOs turn to metadata practices
Metadata has been seen as secondary to analytics and data management programs at many companies, but with the advent of 'big data,' that's changing. Read Now
Information is the next big company asset
CIOs by definition understand the value of information technology. Now, the rest of the world is on the case, marrying the field of information and economics. Welcome to infonomics. Read Now