Taking Control of Big Data

As the economy adapts to the new paradigm introduced by cloud and mobile technologies, several common aspects of IT are taking on new levels of importance. One of the prime examples is data, the digital collection of information that a company either collects explicitly or accumulates unintentionally. Over the past few years, the big data trend has been one part of data’s transformation, as companies find new ways to store and analyze vast quantities of structured and unstructured information.

As CompTIA’s new Big Data Insights and Opportunities report details, many companies are making progress towards this ultimate goal by taking fundamental steps in data management. As with cloud, there is some confusion around specific terminology. Fifty-one percent of companies in the survey claim to have a big data initiative in place, with the top activity being analysis of distributed data stores. However, market sizings show that distributed data only makes up a small percentage of all enterprise storage, so it is likely that many companies are simply indicating they are performing some form of data analysis.

The technical details are not critical for first-order benefits. Whether companies are actually utilizing distributed storage or not, they are performing analysis and reaping rewards. Among the companies that claim to have big data projects underway, 38 percent feel their project has greatly exceeded expectations and 34 percent feel that the project has somewhat exceeded expectations. Regardless of the specifics, becoming more data savvy is clearly paying dividends and helping companies move in the right direction. For a look at how one company made data pay off, check out the story of Twiddy and Company Realtors in the full report.

To better understand the transition that many companies are making in their data approach, think about the difference between backup and business continuity/disaster recovery. Data backup is a standard activity, and one that many companies outsource (backup is second only to security on the list of data activities performed by third parties). But simply backing up data is just the first step. For true BC/DR, companies need to understand the locations of data in the organization and the priorities of different data sets. This dictates the amount of redundancy required or the order in which data is brought back online. More than a third of all companies indicate that they do not have this level of understanding concerning their data and have not simulated recovery scenarios to ensure a sound strategy.

The specter of rogue IT presents a huge challenge to data initiatives. As business units independently pursue technology projects, they create their own data repositories. Forty-two percent of businesses report a high degree of data silos, compared to just 29 percent back in 2013. Fragmented data makes BC/DR more difficult, and it also limits the amount of analysis that can be done across different departments or divisions.

As with other areas where rogue IT poses a threat, companies are looking for some degree of oversight even as they allow independence for greater agility. The CEO or owner is the most likely person to drive data initiatives within an organization, especially at smaller businesses that have no formal IT function. At larger companies, the CIO or IT department is often the driver. This gives further weight to IT’s role as a top-level enabler of company-wide technology initiatives and highlights the need for up-to-date skills. Over half of all companies feel their data skill level is deficient, with the top three skills gaps being real-time analytics, relational databases and data security.

Businesses are transforming into digital organizations, and data is the lifeblood that will enable operations and provide a competitive advantage. Many companies are eyeing analytics as a tool for immediate impact, and the proper structure and management of data will lead to the best insights. By focusing on the entire data picture and adding the necessary skills, IT has an opportunity to provide this management and structure, allowing organizations to make better decisions faster.

Seth Robinson is CompTIA’s senior director of technology analysis.


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