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Big Data Master Plan: Time To Start

Every big data initiative should start with a master plan, says Information Builders CMO.

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What's your big data strategy? Not sure? You're not alone.

One of the problems with implementing a big data plan is that quite often people are confused by the term "big data." They're unsure of its meaning and what it entails, according to Information Builders chief marketing officer Michael Corcoran.

Last year Corcoran was on a panel at a Gartner conference when the moderator asked the audience of more than 1,000 technology professionals how many of them were going to make a big data purchase in 2012. "I think two hands went up," said Corcoran in a phone interview with InformationWeek. "I said, 'Maybe we should ask a different question: How many of you are confused by what 'big data' really means?'"

This time, just about every hand in the audience went up.

"I hate the term 'big data' because it sounds like we're going to have a technology discussion about data," Corcoran told InformationWeek.

But the real world goals of big data need not be particularly daunting. "The issue shouldn't be about the data. It should be about big adoption. What are you going to do with that data?" said Corcoran. Big data, he said, should provide a better understanding of your customers, as well as more detailed view of customer trends on a large scale.

[ What exactly is big data? The Open Data Center Alliance offers a primer. See Big Data 101: New Vendor-Neutral Guide. ]

Information Builders is a software provider of business intelligence, integration and analytics tools, including WebFocus Intelligence, iWay Integration Solutions, and iWay Integrity Solutions. Its platform is designed to access a variety of data types, including social media streams and other sources that typically fall under the big data umbrella.

One snag that organizations often encounter when setting up a big data initiative is finding ways to ensure that unstructured information from multiple sources is accurate and clean, and that it integrates well with existing data systems. "When they start to think about some of the new opportunities for big data, including social media or third-party industry data, how do they marry that elegantly?" Corcoran asked rhetorically.

Enterprises are quickly learning that their data needs greater accuracy and consistency, particularly when the information impacts customers directly. "More organizations are putting customer-facing initiatives online with more and more data," said Corcoran. "It's not just, 'Here's your monthly bill in a PDF format.' Now it's more of an online, interactive relationship through analytical information that you're delivering."

However, companies are often reluctant to deliver new information-driven services if there's a problem with the quality of their data. Data planning is the key to solving data-quality problems, and organizations are doing a better job of accomplishing this goal.

"One of the things that comes with big data is that people are thinking about master data strategies and data governance strategies," said Corcoran. "I think they're taking data less for granted. They're taking a much more strategic approach to how they'll use [the data], how it's defined, and how all of it will be managed and monitored."

Many challenges remain, or course. For instance, more organizations are sharing data with third parties, or outsourcing a lot of their data processing. "And when you have a third party touch your data, you have much less control -- the magnitude of inaccurate data goes up," Corcoran said.

If your organization hasn't devised a big data strategy, now may be a good time to get started.

According to a new Gartner study, global spending on enterprise software is projected to total nearly $300 billion this year, a 6.4% increase from 2012. But while 2013 expenditures will be driven mostly by security, storage management and CRM software purchases, Gartner expects 2014 to have more of a big data slant, as organizations focus on enterprise content management, and data integration and data quality tools.

Our 2012 State Of Servers report takes a look at three major technology trends emerging from our latest survey. Also in the new issue of IT Trends: Performance and endurance gains plus lower cost give multilevel cell flash the edge over expensive single-level cell. (Free registration required.)

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