Talk of “big data” challenges is making a lot of noise. Data is growing at an almost unmanageable pace. In fact, data types and sources of all kinds – from enterprise resource planning or software, server logs and social media, and even unstructured data from voice and video – are burgeoning.

A tidal wave of information is drowning the enterprise, and although most organisations have a handle on the collection and storage of the data, few know how to analyse it effectively.

“The clever companies are looking beyond data volumes and focusing on the analytic value the data can deliver,” says Premie Naicker, MD of Yellowfin South Africa.

“Big data, or the gathering and processing of previously unimagined volumes of data, has been lauded for its ability to give insight into supply chain efficiency, marketing effectiveness, customer needs, and other areas of the business.”

Big data has been ‘the next game changer’ and one of the hottest topics for several years now, and those companies that haven’t already jumped on the bandwagon, are now clamouring to do so. However, big data on its own provides very little value, and it’s the insight that analysis can offer that makes an impact on the business, says Naicker.

“Where is the value in reams and reams of data – about everything from customer shoe sizes to Twitter trends – unless that data can be analysed to provide a company with insights into how those things affect operations, strategy and specific business objectives?”

Naicker says the businesses that adopted big data analytics when it was still in its infancy have an advantage over their counterparts who did not.

“Research has shown that businesses with advanced analytics capabilities are outperforming those without by a long shot.

According to MGI and McKinsey’s Business Technology Office, “analytics will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation and consumer surplus”.

Similarly, Gartner and IDC indicate that early adopters of analytic technologies are far more likely to be ahead in terms of financial performance, the ability to make and execute decisions more quickly and, notably, more likely to use knowledge gleaned from their data when making these decisions.”

However, Naicker says the sad fact is that many companies have not yet laid the foundation for harnessing their growing data assets. “A business needs a relatively straightforward approach, with only a few steps involved, to adopt big data analytics. Firstly, massive amounts of data: structured, semi-structured and unstructured. Secondly, they need good analytics tools, and thirdly, they need staff that understand how to make those tools function.”

A good starting point, she says, is for organisations to establish what they hope to gain out of big data and analytics investments. “There are several obvious options – bettering existing products and services, streamlining internal processes, building new product or service offerings, and changing business models and operations.

“Once a company has its objectives defined, it can begin working on developing analytics capabilities. This will include dealing with any resistance, as well as up-skilling staff throughout the businesses to use the data effectively. Owners of the analytics initiatives must be defined, and these individuals must make sure the data is incorporated into processes to aid better decision making. In addition, targets for improvements, both operational and financial must be set.”

Naicker also advises companies wishing to join the big data game to benchmark their particular industry and determine how the analytical capabilities of their organisation weigh-up against its closest competitors. “This will help to accurately measure what sort of investment is needed to better their position,” says Naicker.