Almost two-thirds of professionals around the world say that the use of information (including big data) and analytics is creating a competitive advantage for their organizations. But ask these professionals to define big data, and all consensus is thrown out the window. That’s what IBM and Oxford University found when they surveyed [download page] more than 1,000 executives from 95 countries, across 26 industries. The respondents, given a list of choices, were allowed to select up to 2 descriptions of how their organizations view big data. No single characteristic topped 20% of the normalized results.
For example, the selected characteristics ranged from “a greater scope of information” (18%), “new kinds of data and analysis” (16%), and “real-time information” (15%) to “large volumes of data” (10%), “the latest buzzword” (8%), and “social media” (7%).
Still, the report finds that these definitions can be generally grouped into 3 dimensions of big data – volume, variety, and velocity. The researchers recommend organizations consider a 4th dimension, veracity, which stresses questions of reliability, unpredictability and the often imprecise nature of some data.
While certain types of big data have been used by some industries for many years (the study cites an oil exploration company’s analysis of geological data as an example), most companies are only now starting to latch onto the concept (whatever theirs may be) of big data in their organizations. 28% are in pilot or implementation phase of big data activities (with just 6% having deployed 2 or more initiatives), although a further 47% are in the planning stage. The remaining one-quarter have not yet begun big data activities. This finding aligns with recent research that showed that US companies are only now starting to become familiar with big data concepts.
The IBM study defines big data adoption as “a natural progression of the data, sources, technologies and skills that are necessary to create a competitive advantage in the globally integrated marketplace.” Those that have implemented pilot projects or are in more advanced stages were 15% more likely than those relying on traditional analytics to report a significant advantage from information (big data included) and analytics.
If organizations are adopting big data to better compete, then they clearly see that a competitive advantage can be gained by improving the customer experience. Roughly half of respondents’ big-data activities are focused on customer-centric outcomes. Other applications such as operational optimization (18%), risk/financial management (15%), new business models (14%) and employee collaboration (4%) are relatively less important.
Interestingly, organizations with active big data efforts report being less likely to turn to social media as a source of data than to other internal channels. Transactions are the most popular data collected and analyzed, by 88% of this group of respondents, while log data (73%) also is commonly retrieved for analysis. Events (59%) and emails (57%) are also important sources of information, each ranking ahead of social media (43%). Social’s relatively small influence is particularly interesting given respondents’ focus on customer experience and attitudes. This will likely change in time as organizations become more comfortable with big data and turn their attention to external sources.
About the Data: The findings are based on the Big Data @ Work Survey conducted by IBM in mid-2012. Respondents represent a mix of disciplines, including both business professionals (54 percent of the total sample) and IT professionals (46 percent). Respondents self- selected to participate in the web-based survey.
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