Survey Shows Big-Data Disconnect

If your organization has yet to formalize a big-data strategy, then you may feel as if you're behind the rest of the world on this buzziest of business trends. But, apparently, you're not.

Few organizations, in fact, are yet taking advantage of big-data sources, shows a recent big-data survey conducted by SAS (this site's sponsor) and SourceMedia. Conducted in December 2012, the global survey took the pulse of 339 professionals involved with data management tools and processes. Results indicate that only 12 percent of respondent organizations are conducting daily operations against a big-data strategy.

The reasons are varied, and not so surprising: For example, respondents cited cost and lack of support, two common deployment holdups, as factors for why their organizations aren't exploiting big-data's potential at this point. Here's the breakdown:

  • 21 percent indicate their organizations donít know enough about big-data
  • 15 percent said their organizations donít understand the benefits
  • 9 percent cite a lack of business support
  • 8 percent cite poor data quality in current systems
  • 6 percent point to a lack of executive commitment
  • 6 percent signal cost/financial resources are at issue
In addition, the survey found that 11 percent of organizations have no reason their organizations aren't considering or exploring the use of external big-data to help make business decisions. This, I must say, I find surprising.

I can understand that some organizations simply aren't ready to move ahead with big-data -- that they're well situated in what SAS CMO Jim Davis described last week at the SAS Executive Briefing roadshow in New York as the bottom right of the data quadrant: They have large amounts of data and continue using traditional analytics in reactive fashion. They haven't yet evolved their reactive analytics from traditional data to big-data sources, and so be it. What I don't understand is the organization that can't rationalize its use or non-use of big-data today.

Perhaps in situations such as these what's needed is for IT and the business to make nice with each other or for an executive sponsor to take up the big-data charge. As SAS and SourceMedia point out in the survey report, determining who's in charge of the data management strategy can be a major big-data challenge. "In the past, IT groups have done the bulk of data management strategy, but recent trends in data governance and data stewardship have given business analysts and business managers a seat at the table," the report notes.

The survey indicates that at some organizations executive advocates have elevated data to corporate asset while at others data strategy remains in IT's purview. When asked "who owns the data strategy?" 42 percent of respondents indicated either mid-level or senior IT executives while 40 percent pointed to some sort of C-level ownership. However, among that second group more pointed to the CIO -- 26 percent of respondents -- than to other top execs (7 percent of organizations said the CEO owned the data strategy while another 7 percent said a C-level executive other than CEO or CIO).

Will such confusion keep big-data strategy from shaping up within many organizations? Perhaps yes, the survey indicates. As noted in a press release on the survey results:

    Asked about the likelihood that their organizations would use external big data in 2014, just 14 percent of respondents said "very likely," while 19 percent responded "not likely at all." Specific concerns included data quality and accuracy, accessing the right data, reconciling disparate data, lack of organizational view into data, timeliness, compliance, and security.

What I'd like is for all organizations to seek an understanding of big-data, to study potential benefits particular to them -- and then rule out its use in your organization as not providing enough value at this point. "No reason" simply won't do.

Is your organization taking advantage of big-data today? Why or why not?

Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors,, and others.

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don't even talk to each other
  • 4/3/2013 9:29:08 AM

I find the various divisions within a corporate IT department don't even talk to each other - much less talk to the data scientists!

A lot of people with whom I've talked, gathered as much from their experiences.  You'd think that this situation was a function of an organization's size - the bigger they are, the harder they stall (compartmentalize); and that is likely, to a point:  Within a small shop; the division of labor probably isn't as rigidly established, there's less turnover of personnel, and conversations more likely to be interactive (rather than one-way declarations from on high).

I think the same problem can effect smaller entities (maybe even to a higher degree), where IT functions are outsourced.  Whether it is, or isn't, an issue probably depends on the nature of the outsourcing, and the specific characteristics of the outsourcing firm (the more the service can be taken as a commodity, the more likely the occurrence).  Here, the attitudes, expectations and differences in agenda for the service contractor and service provider can result in the same failures in communication and coordination to be found in larger corporate structures. 

In both scenarios, much of the problem (in my opinion), stems from some fundamental misconceptions concerning data: people assume they are talking apples-to-apples, where the fruit is actually of quite a different color.  

Interest in big-data
  • 4/3/2013 9:13:14 AM

And now a word from google trends: a graph showing interest in big-data from 2011to the present.

Re: Holding back on Big Data strategy
  • 4/3/2013 8:54:04 AM

I agree with the bad/incomplete data scenario.  It's never going to be perfect.  I think there are many, often conflicting stategies right now that come from all over.  Once these are combined in a company things will be clearer.  Lack of knowledge is huge.  It's hard to create a data bases strategy.  It's new. Never been done.  So, it will take time.

Re: Holding back on Big Data strategy
  • 4/3/2013 7:19:11 AM

I find the various divisions within a corporate IT department don't even talk to each other - much less talk to the data scientists!

Re: Holding back on Big Data strategy
  • 4/2/2013 11:32:02 PM

I agree on the point of IT and Business often being dysfunctional partners (a whole other thread, chapter, book, library on the causes for that).  Suffice it to say that, if an organization were run as a sole proprietorship, the one person who had to see to it that everything necessary for the business to succeed wouldn't care who's rice bowl got broken in the process - that man or woman would take into account all the concerns, all the risks and benefits, before going ahead with any such initiative. 

When we build models we know there'll be noise.  We just need to minimize it and maximize the signal.  There, I think, is where you start building a bridge from data to inference using assumptions. 

A pretty safe assumption is that many enterprises will move forward, and aggressively, to exploit Big Data technology.  Many of these will profit from that; and many that are hesitant will loose a competitive advantage.  The phrases You can't win if you don't play and You have to be in it to win it are common and logically correct when applied to lotteries; but perhaps the economy in general would be in better shape if the focus was on steady gains through investment, rather than spectacular profits through speculation.  I guess that is old school, old thinking

I need it [data] for this purpose. Make it happen.  There's something in that.  Conceptual modeling to establish the information system requirements specific to an enterprise, using a suitable methodology, is spectacularly rare.  That suitable methodology is focused on discovering just what the informational needs are, and establishing the data structures which will support them.  Putting data manipulation ahead of purposed and well architected data structuring is, to my mind, putting the cart before the horse. 

Re: Holding back on Big Data strategy
  • 4/2/2013 9:19:02 PM

Maybe.  It's telling that the strategy (if there is one) resides with the CIO or IT organizations.  I wouldn't expect it to be anywhere else but most IT orgs aren't tasked with driving the business forward.  Mostly it's "make the it run at the least possible cost".  That's not a recipe for innovation. 

Maybe it's the wrong question.  It's not about a data strategy per se.  It's about what the data can do to drive the business.  If nobody in the organization has been able to articulate that, then I wouldn't expect any kind of IT strategy to emerge.  Someone from the business side has to say "I need it for this purpose. Make it happen." I don't think that's happened yet.  We need to stop thinking about the data and start thinking about the possibilities.

The "data's not complete, accurate, cleansed etc. etc" are old thinking. When we build models we know there'll be noise.  We just need to minimize it and maximize the signal.  If  you're waiting for perfect data you're going to be waiting a long time!

Re: questioning the data on Big Data
  • 4/2/2013 5:33:34 PM

I think that is the issue Phil, I often wonder why my phone doesn't ring non stop but alas ignorance is bliss I guess - the clients I have wouldn't trade me for the world but seems they are the minority (as least by these stats on this article)

Holding back on Big Data strategy
  • 4/2/2013 1:06:50 PM

To some extent, the term Big Data has the same characteristics as the term Cloud Computing.  Each term is open to a broad range of definition and implication; each is well suited as a marketing tag (positive, expansive, suggesting open territory); each term is used to unify some technologies and applications which have been undergoing development and adoption - but which have not had the sound-bite, web-search, friendly expression that gathered the treads. 

Because many established organizations have seen other next big thing buildups, which came with similar labels, and recall the failures as well as the success stories; some will want more clarification and time to consider risks vs. rewards before committing resources. 

As for no reason entries: that could also include no reason, which I can, or care to, articulate (assuming the survey provided the option for reasons not listed; and if they didn't provide that option - there's your reason for no reason

Re: questioning the data on Big Data
  • 4/2/2013 1:06:08 PM

It's too easy to assume you "get" something when the subject is too complex to even wrap your head around.

questioning the data on Big Data
  • 4/2/2013 11:19:43 AM

I just don't buy these numbers. So, upwards of 80% of the organizations get it? I have a hard time swallowing that. Perhaps many people just don't want to admit that they don't get it.