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Executives Push Big Data Projects, Not Sure Why

Hype makes big data so hot every company wants to try it, but execs remain unsure why they need it or how to implement it.

Big Data Talent War: 10 Analytics Job Trends
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There are a lot of challenges to be overcome before most companies will be able to take full advantage of a big-data facility, or even a single project, according to a recently published study by VAR and reseller-training organization CompTIA. Few companies are run by executives who understand either the technicalities or purpose of big data well enough to help their companies profit from it.

The study includes results from two surveys conducted in July. One polled end users, IT staff, and business executives involved with technical projects. The other was made up of responses from 435 VAR and reseller executives.

Of the business and IT executives responding, only 37% said they were very or mostly familiar with the concept of big data--but not to the extent of being able to design or supervise the building of a big-data facility or even a single project.

At a recent London conference of senior-level, IT-savvy business managers, not one was willing to hazard a genuine guess at how much more profitable their companies could be with free access to 100 times as much data on customers as it already had, according to Harvard Business Review columnist Michael Schrage, who posed the question to the audience.

[ Related: How To Find Strategic Advantage From Big Data. ]

The more the CEOs thought about how to roll out a big-data project, the more likely it seemed that big data would cost a lot of money, take a lot of time and development work--and still face organizational barriers designed to make it easier to manage people and revenue streams than the data they generate, said Schrage.

"Neither the quantity nor quality of data was the issue," Schrage writes in his blog. "What matters is how--and why--vastly more data leads to vastly greater value creation."

Making decisions about how to reinforce, eliminate, or reduce obstacles is the province of boards of directors and top corporate officers, rather than the middle managers and IT managers usually involved with nascent big-data products, noted Schrage. Without help to clear the hierarchy of authority and data ownership, any big-data project is more an experiment in analytics than an effective way to make business decisions, he writes.

Not every company can or should use big-data analytics, according to Tim Herbert, CompTIA's VP of research. Those that want to use it anticipate a range of benefits, but don't seem to know how to build and adapt to the technology necessary to get them. Only a third of the CompTIA survey's business respondents said their companies were exactly where they should be on the big-data learning curve. And just 20% said their companies do a good job of analyzing Web traffic patterns. Fifteen percent said they were good at analyzing email marketing results, and 12% said they were good at analyzing their efforts to use social media.

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