A recent study by IDC Digital Universe estimates that nearly three trillion gigabytes of digital information were created in the year 2012. This is equivalent to more than 350 gigabytes of pictures, videos, text, and other data for every man, woman, and child on the planet. Surprisingly, the same study suggests that less than 1 percent of all that digital content is actually analyzed for value.
The term big data is used to describe databases that are so large that they can't be processed with normal tools and techniques. The belief is that hidden inside these enormous data sets is a world of useful information that could revolutionize nearly every industry.
With all of the excitement surrounding big data, however, it is easy for businesses to forget that the data itself is just raw material. It is the analysis of this data and the application of the results to business problems that provides competitive advantage.
The Business Case for Outsourcing Analytics
As an example, Wal-Mart needed to understand what people were most likely to purchase during hurricane warnings. Batteries were an obvious assumption, which analytics proved to be true.
However, the second item, Kellogg's Pop-Tarts, was totally unexpected. Pop-Tarts were a hit because they do not require refrigeration and are easy to carry and store. (Consumers facing storm situations feared potential long-term power failures.) As a result of this intelligence, Wal-Mart now stocks up on Pop-Tarts in its Gulf Coast stores ahead of storm season.
The dilemma for many companies trying to manage big data is that analytics is a highly specialized discipline and requires a distinct set of technical skills and an analytical mindset to be successful. Not every company has specialists in place to create an effective in-house analytics team. For these organizations, the development of an analytics capability can be challenging. But not impossible.
Outsourced service providers can help you integrate analytics solutions with your real-time reporting and decision support systems based on your big data management needs. Such partners can help save time and money by eliminating the need to hire and train an independent team of analytics experts.
The right service provider can provide game-changing insights and growth opportunities for your business. The trick lies in finding the right partner and using their insights to create additional value.
Six tips for selecting a service provider
- Think through your scope. Big data is, true to its name, big. Before you bring in a partner or even set about trying to find one, work out what you plan to outsource. Plan ahead and document what you expect from provider candidates.
- Keep decision-makers informed. Explain your goals and the expected results to decision-makers. They need to understand and trust the information that your partner will bring in before they are willing to act on it.
- Look for domain expertise. No service provider will know your business as well as you do. However, you should look for companies with some expertise in your industry. This domain knowledge helps ensure that they can interpret the results properly.
- Organize your data. Be prepared to spend a lot of time cleansing your data and explaining data relationships to the service provider. Your outsourced partner should be willing to provide some guidance with these efforts.
- Pilot small projects. Start with smaller projects and measure the results effectively. Setting up the right metrics beforehand is important.
- Follow stringent security measures. Establish solid legal agreements between your organization and your service provider. You want your data to be secure and you want the vendor to comply with all local privacy laws and regulations.
As businesses scramble for the tools and resources to tackle big data, they need to remember that they must also focus on developing their analytical capabilities. If you can't do this yourself, get ahead in the competitive game by finding a partner who can help you identify new business opportunities and add value to your existing programs.
Mike Kinde is the manager of research and analytics at Aditya Birla Minacs Marketing Solutions, where he is responsible for research, data analysis, and data strategy.