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From data gathering to competitive strategy: The evolution of big data

Last updated:July 2013

Editor's note

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.

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.

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.