A Game Plan for Big Data that moves Beyond the Hype

It can be argued that Big Data has grown to occupy a position of huge proportions in enterprise computing. Whereas some of the other emerging technologies that are driving this latest generation of enterprise software revolution – namely mobile, social, and cloud – have followed adoption patterns that are somewhat more typical for an enterprise, Big Data has become a Holy Grail, one that many companies don’t even really understand. The challenge is that Big Data is really not new – data has been an integral part of the business from the very beginning. Enterprises have spent the better part of their existence trying to capture, manage, store, and access this data. The recent new “wrinkle” in all this data talk that has spawned the “Big Data” movement is the rise of technologies that enable very large amounts of data to be manipulated and mined quickly and through user-friendly interfaces, giving rise to the ability for companies to use the data in real-time to impact the course of business.

And now, to muddy the waters further, we have a new phrase that has been coined around Big Data – “datafication.” As experts in big data have defined this concept, datafication is the process of capturing information or a phenomenon and putting it in a quantified format so that it can be tabulated and analyzed. In their upcoming book on the subject, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think experts in the field of Big Data explain how datafication will be used to overlay the entire human world as we know it, from predicting the spread of a flu outbreak to putting the text of millions of books into searchable form. Datafication is already well underway in the enterprise world, as business leaders become interested in learning the answers to critical business questions, and turn to their CIO or CTO to figure out how to capture and mine their data to get the answer.

This is the predominant current state of Big Data in the enterprise – it is being driven from the highest levels of the business, and it is being approached from a business standpoint. What this creates is an opportunity for IT to redefine their relationship within the business, and create a more strategic alignment with LOB managers to leverage technology for business goals. In fact, we see Big Data and the opportunity for datafication of a plethora of different business-oriented scenarios to be a starting point for a revision of the IT/business relationship.

The typical path for Big Data adoption, which incidentally is not always labeled as such because of the hype, is when a high-level business manager has a specific question or business problem they want answered. The answer lies in the combined analysis of structured and unstructured data across multiple systems, and requires an IT roadmap for efficiently processing the data in a way that will yield usable answers. Pilots are launched, and technologies engaged to produce the desired results. This is true across verticals, from healthcare to manufacturing, and it is the first step toward making Big Data real within an enterprise. Often, the outcomes of the pilot projects are what will eventually be production systems for datafication efforts. And, typically that first question will lead to twenty in a specific area, and soon enough catches like wildfire across the enterprise as CFOs, CMOs realize the potential and seek out IT to help enable their own Big Data questions.

2013 promises to be a watershed year for Big Data across vertical industries, with early movers taking deliberate steps toward embracing Big Data fully. IT is uniquely positioned to be the hero in helping business executives find answers to their questions that can change the course of their business. Use this opportunity to redefine IT from a cost center to a business enabler. It will likely be just the beginning of the datafication of your enterprise.