First, a brief introduction. Big Data is a catch-all term generally used to describe the amount of information out there in the world, the means we have of capturing it and analysing it.

Some proponents of Big Data see the potential therein to literally change the world – preventing pandemics, alerting governments to future extreme weather shifts, predicting movements in the stock markets. Others see a Big Question-mark hanging over it – what is the point of collecting all this data (assuming we even have the storage capabilities) if we lack sufficient means to process it accurately?

Business Perspective

Some studies would indicate that the amount of business data available doubles in volume every 1.2 years.

The Big Benefit for business in assembling this vast stockpile of information is clear – understanding your customers’ behaviour should allow you to predict it in the future – helping to kickstart more effective marketing campaigns and drive sales upwards, as well as strengthening the bond between brand and consumer.

How to make the most of Big Data?

Analysis

Nowadays businesses, especially large organisations, can collect data from their customers by many different means – store card patterns; credit card details; social media; location of the consumer from smart phones. All these sources can get messy, so the various techniques for analysing the information need to be well-integrated in order to be effective. A lot of technology companies now provide software and consultancy services to help businesses that don’t have the capability inhouse.

Security

Another aspect to be considered is customer opinion. Do people feel comfortable with companies having all this data about them? Do they trust them to store and use it responsibly? Although the majority of information a company collects may be harmless and easily accessible, the idea of a multinational corporation developing such a comprehensive understanding of you as a person, and who they might pass it on to, can be a little unnerving. It’s important therefore that Big Data is managed well.

Strategy

In the final reckoning, making good use of your knowledge is what counts. The problem of Big Data lies in its sheer scale. To process huge amounts of information puts great strain on resources, particularly storage. It’s important before beginning that a business has a good idea of what outcomes it wants to achieve from the data – for example, a supermarket targeting a gastronomic holiday to Tuscany to customers it knows have an interest in Italian food. Then sort the information it needs to achieve them. Otherwise the business may just be wasting time.

The Big Picture

There is an increasing awareness among businesses that the scope for data capture is immense, possibly infinite. As our ability to store and refine it improves, debate over whether it’s all hype should reduce. But for businesses, a good understanding of the benefits and limitations is essential, as is a clear strategy for extracting the information you need efficiently and using it to your advantage. Patterns and trends are there to be exploited in all manner of new, innovative ways, provided you know where to look.