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Making Sense of “Big Data” in 2015: A Few Predictions


It seems that, just yesterday, businesses were captivated by the bold promise of “Big Data.” As profit-making organizations, they valued the ability to capture massive loads of information and use it to make business decisions. Businesses also devised new ways to retrieve data, turning not only to traditional sources  but also to nontraditional ones such as social media and the endless parade of sensors and trackers embedded in smart technology and other connected objects that constitute the “Internet of Things.” These sources of information, business leaders believed, could offer them important clues about customers and prospects. The data obtained could provide intelligence on how consumers thought, felt, and behaved. Once this was understood, the insight could be used to gain competitive advantages.

But just as businesses were mastering new ways of collecting information, they began to experience digital fatigue. Horror stories abounded. For example, it was said the data captured by Wal-Mart in a single hour could fill 60 million five-drawer file cabinets. Information was pouring tsunami-like into organizations at a faster pace, and in greater quantities, than could possibly be managed. The information being collected was raw, not clearly understood, unstructured, and unused. It was too complex and voluminous to make sense of in any rational way and at any reasonable cost.

2015 will be a year of catching our collective breath and re-evaluating what ‘Big Data’ really means.

Data Governance: A Catchphrase for 2015

In light of these growing concerns, the business intelligence (BI) experts at CohnReznick predict 2015 will be a year of catching our collective breath and re-evaluating what “Big Data” really means. “As data gets bigger, more complex, and more disparate, the new quest will be to figure out what useful data is out there that can be most effective in helping businesses achieve their strategic objectives,” says Paul Urban, Managing Director of CohnReznick’s BI Services.

"Businesses will work to figure out how they can use that data and act on it quickly,” he adds, noting that the new catchphrases will be “data strategy” and “data governance.” A related phrase—“small data”—will also gain traction. “The focus will be on governing data, molding it into something that is manageable, meaningful, and actionable—making it small enough to mean something to end users,” says Urban.

Going hand-in-hand with data governance will be a hyperawareness that organizations have an important obligation to protect the data they have taken pains to collect. Alarming data breaches such as those that occurred at Anthem and Target, which can devastate an organization and anger customers, have shown the risks. Cybersecurity is now a number one priority for most organizations.

Data Quality Highly Desirable

This year, businesses will also begin the process of sorting the wheat from the chaff. The accuracy and trustworthiness of data will be of paramount importance. Businesses will be less impressed by the volume of data they have collected and more impressed by its quality and impact on driving performance, reducing risk, and helping them make predictions.

Self-service BI Will Continue to Grow

Moving forward, business decision-makers will want greater control over data. They will want to manage their own BI queries, reports, dashboards, and analytics with reduced reliance upon information technology (IT) support. “BI software providers are responding to this demand with new generations of self-service BI platforms that make it possible for anyone within an organization to perform simple queries with ease, employing Google-like search capabilities, as well as offering easy-to-comprehend, at-a-glance business visualizations,” says Urban. These BI capabilities allow business users to receive instantaneous responses to their queries with data pulled in real time from relational databases spread across the enterprise and in the cloud. The IT function, freed from its traditional role of gathering reports, will now help shape and develop organizational data repositories—central repositories where stores of information such as customer service records, operational data, financial information, risk data, or purchasing information, etc., is readily available for decision makers to consume in real time. IT will also work to ensure that this information is completely trusted and reliable in terms of its quality and its business context.

Predictive Analytics Moves Front and Center

In the quest to manage information, businesses are increasingly turning to predictive analytics to unleash the power of data more effectively – a trend that will continue in 2015. Predictive analytics technology, boasting automated aggregation and classification capabilities along with machine-learning pattern recognition and forecasting outcomes, fulfills the role of an automated data scientist and puts non-expert users in the driver’s seat. “With this transformative technology, raw data that businesses already have in their customer relationship management systems and other databases is instantly converted into useful insights that help them better understand their customers, predict behaviors and trends, enhance operations and business performance, and ultimately make smarter strategic decisions,” says Urban.

Transforming Collected Data into a Re-sellable Commodity

As businesses gain mastery over the data they have aggregated, many will seek ways to monetize its value by selling it to other interested parties. This does not mean reselling private, sensitive information about their customers but, instead, capitalizing on the insights that have been gleaned from the data. For example, a healthcare provider maintaining an insurance claims database may, as a byproduct, have also captured critical information about prescribed drugs including their efficacy and clinical results. This would be valuable information for a pharmaceutical company to have. 

Visualization Leaps Forward

Great strides will continue to be made as data visualization becomes more intelligent and meaningful. “New BI platforms have made possible automatic visualization whereby data is presented in a clear graphic format based on industry, data-metric types, business scenario, and user types. Intelligent analytic tools will help guide users through the data-navigation process and enable better collaboration and easier sharing of results among peers,” says Urban. Machine-learned analytic capabilities, which essentially enable computers to instantly sort through prior searches and scenarios when a new query is made, will streamline the analytical process by identifying significant correlations between past and current searches. This ability to reach into memory will also enable automatic exception reporting and trigger an alert when patterns within the stored data change or when data anomalies occur. This will help pinpoint potential problems or fraudulent activity. For example, if an expense item suddenly skyrockets, it will be readily detected. Dashboards will look different as well with complex graphs and data tables replaced by simpler visualizations and appealing infographics that quickly tell a story.

What Does CohnReznick Think?
Corporate leaders and IT professionals will have to adjust to a new era of BI. “The new reality is that IT is no longer in the report-generating business.  It is in the business of supplying the real-time, self-service reporting BI infrastructure which end users, especially decision makers, rely upon,” says Urban. “Business leaders should expect their IT professionals to take on new responsibilities for building scalable and easy-to-use data repositories that reflect the business and contain data that is secure, trustworthy, and accurate.”

Most important, business leaders will now have enhanced analytics tools to help them respond quickly to opportunities and to make better-informed decisions. In addition, those in the IT function will feel continued pressure to stay nimble and informed in order to rapidly deliver emerging BI technologies as they come online.

For more information on CohnReznick’s business intelligence services, visit our Management and Technology Consulting site. For BI news, you may also visit the Business Intelligence Center of Excellence LinkedIn group, which is managed by CohnReznick.

This has been prepared for information purposes and general guidance only and does not constitute professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining specific professional advice. No representation or warranty (express or implied) is made as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this publication, and CohnReznick LLP, its members, employees and agents accept no liability, and disclaim all responsibility, for the consequences of you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this publication or for any decision based on it.

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