Big Data and the Future of Business

Stephen DeAngelis

February 22, 2021

Geoffrey Moore (@geoffreyamoore), an American Management Consultant and Author, once stated, “Without big data analytics, companies are blind and deaf, wandering out onto the web like deer on a freeway.” Andrew McAfee (@amcafee), co-director of the MIT Initiative, goes a step further. He insists, “The world is one big data problem.” Big data is not a new topic; nevertheless, big data is as important to the future of business as it has been in the past. The staff at Innovation Origins (IO) writes, “One subject that never fails to feature in discussions about our technological future is that of Big Data.” Journalist Adilin Beatrice asserts, “Big data is the most revolutionary development in technology.”[2] The IO staff considers the mastery of big data so important they insist the future belongs “to the people that understand the power of big data.”

What is big data?

According the IO staff, “Big Data is a confusing and much-misunderstood concept. It refers to the processing of vast amounts of information, far too large for traditional systems and techniques to handle. It comes from a huge variety of sources, including our Internet habits, social media, business transactions, smart devices, and many more.” Other than its size, big data is not easily defined. Some analysts like to explain it using seven “Vs”, namely: Volume (it’s humongous); Velocity (it’s being generated at breakneck speeds); Variety (it comes in structured, semi-structured, and unstructured ways); Veracity (not all data is good data); Value (data must be analyzed); Vulnerability (databases come under constant hacker attack); and, Virtue (the ethical use of big data). Data, of course, has been around since humans started writing things down. What makes the digital era different is how many ways data can be generated and exciting breakthroughs in analytic capabilities using computers.

Tech writer Meenu EG insists, “The advent of technology has brought visible changes in the process of doing business. Big data and predictive analytics has had a great impact on industries.”[3] He also notes that big data has challenges that must be addressed. He highlights three specific data challenges: accuracy, consistency, and bias.

Data Accuracy. Meenu points out that some people believe the greater the volume of data the more accurate it becomes. Their reasoning is that outliers become less impactful in a huge database. He argues, however, that is not always true. He also notes that trying to analyze vast amounts of data in real-time is difficult, leading many companies to rely on sampling. This, too, he notes, can introduce errors. Taking the time to get the data accurate from the beginning really pays off in the end.

Data Consistency. Meenu explains, “The data need to be consistent in order to get the right insights. Data is never static; it keeps changing. Since the collection of data hails from multiple sources, it isn’t easy to maintain consistency. Users might get misinformed if the data is inconsistent. Getting different answers for the same query can lead to such inconsistency.” Continual testing and comparing is the only way to ensure the data and the analytics are accurate.

Data bias. Bias can enter the picture either as a result of the data or through the algorithms used to analyze the data. Meenu writes, “A strain of data might contain the biases and faulty values inherited from its source. Data processing using algorithms can also lead to biases.” Meenu notes that algorithms are often “black boxes” and finding out how biases are introduced through them is a difficult process.

In addition to data challenges, staff members at FutureLearn provide a few more challenges businesses must confront.[4] For example, they note there are definite costs associated with big data projects, including: 1) Hardware and software costs. As well as systems to manage large volumes of data (such as Hadoop and Apache Spark), you also have to think about storing the data (with systems like Cassandra or HBase). 2) Personnel costs . Data science is a growing field, and those with an understanding of it are in high demand. Salaries for new hires or freelancers can be expensive. 3) Development costs. Developing a big data solution specific to your business can take a fair amount of time and resources. They also highlight a particular concern, especially when dealing with personal data: security. They write, “By collecting such a vast amount of data, there arises the issue of keeping that information safe.” Failing to do so can cost a company both money and reputation.

Harnessing the power of big data

Despite all the challenges, most analysts insist successful companies must become digital enterprises and learn to leverage data. Sandeep Aggarwal (@SandeepAgg), founder of Droom and ShopClues, acknowledges, “Big data and data analytics do not entirely guarantee success, nevertheless, it substantially increases the probability of making an informed decision.”[5] Is that important? Bain analysts, Michael C. Mankins and Lori Sherer (), assert, “The best way to understand any company’s operations is to view them as a series of decisions.”[6] Mankins and Sherer add, “We know from extensive research that decisions matter — a lot. Companies that make better decisions, make them faster and execute them more effectively than rivals nearly always turn in better financial performance. Not surprisingly, companies that employ advanced analytics to improve decision making and execution have the results to show for it.”

Aggarwal adds, “It was revealed in Dell’s second annual Global Technology Adoption Index that companies who had adopted Big Data were registering 50% higher revenue growth rates as compared to their peers. The reason for this growth is that the size and volume of data being generated and the valuable information it offers can greatly help businesses identify lacunae, areas of growth and aspects that offer scope for improvement. Big Data helps companies understand customer sentiment and leveraging its benefits can have a huge impact on their fortune. Data analysis also helps eliminate redundant processes and business practices. Additionally, it lets a company understand the market opinion and competitors’ strategies, giving it a tactical advantage.” The most thing a company can do to get the great benefit from big data is get the data right.

Business Growth Advisor Dan Arens explains, “Probably, the most significant decision you will be making is to determine what information you will be using and how you will use it. It is also important that you do not get too bogged down in industry data. While general trends and directions can be helpful, most of the time, they are not realistic for a specific business. There are too many variables influencing your business that may not be impacting the industry at all. A familiar term in business is the initialism KPI (Key Performance Indicator). Take some time to think about what KPIs you would like to develop and once you develop them, how you will use them in your business decision making process.”[7]

The IO staff concludes, “The opportunities for Big Data are enormous, but so too are the risks. A certain regulation around the usage of information and the privacy aspects that come with it, is very desirable. But even then, the future is to the ones that understand the power of big data.”

Footnotes
[1] IO REDACTIE, “The future is to the people that understand the power of Big Data,” Innovation Origins, 9 November 2020.
[2] Adilin Beatrice, “Why Big Data is the Most Revolutionary Development in Technology,” Analytics Insight, 2 December 2020.
[3] Meenu EG, “How Reliable is Big Data in Today’s Business World” Analytics Insight, 23 January 2021.
[4] Staff, “What is big data, and how can it help my business?” FutureLearn, 15 October 2020.
[5] Sandeep Aggarwal, “How Is Big Data Creating A Plethora Of Opportunities For Businesses?” Inc42, 16 January 2021.
[6] Michael C. Mankins and Lori Sherer, “Creating value through advanced analytics,” Bain Brief, 11 February 2015.
[7] Dan Arens, “Business Growth: Let Big Data Be a Big Help,” Inside Indiana Business, 5 January 2021.