Throughout 2013, big data and analytics have been among the most-hyped themes within the world of IT. With the vast datasets that most businesses now own about their customers and themselves, it's no wonder that applying analytics to this data to better understand customers and business processes is increasingly attractive.
But how much was hype and how much was reality? For many businesses, analytics — not necessarily "big" data — in particular began adding up.
NRMA Motoring Services, for example, turned to CRM, e-commerce, analytics, and geolocation technologies to better engage its membership base and create new cross-selling opportunities for its diversified suite of businesses.
At online shoe retailer Shoes of Prey, analytics is deeply embedded in its business model: The company is able to look at individual customer spend and profitability, and this also allows it to begin upselling based on the fashion tastes of its clients.
For large organisations, big data and analytics are making sense: Intel this year crowed about how its early forays into the space had resulted in as much as AU$10 million in value being delivered. At institutions like Monash University and its Cave Automatic Virtual Environment 2, big data is underpinning research into drugs development, health, engineering, astronomy, and a range of other disciplines.
Even governments are moving toward big data and analytics, with the New South Wales government in particular tipped to rapidly adopt analytics as a result of its major datacentre consolidation program. The Australian government also announced its intention to be a world leader in the area.
But how will this all play out in 2014?
According to Alec Gardner, industry consulting director at Teradata Australia and New Zealand, 2014 will see more companies deploying analytics pilots as a toe in the water.
"More companies will roll up their sleeves and 'have a try' by starting to bring in new data sources and technologies to answer new business questions and gain insight either not possible or too difficult previously," he said.
This, Gardner says, could include specific projects to enable more efficient marketing and communications spend though analysis of the most effective messages and channels, or for a better understanding of customer experience and thus predictability into, and influence of, Net Promoter Score.
Projects will also enable clearer visibility of behavioural trends and patterns to see both opportunity to enhance a relationship — for example to upsell and improve service delivery — or to intervene to reduce fraud or risk in a business. They will also be able to ask previously unaskable questions.
"For the past two years, there has been an almost inverse relationship between the companies talking about their use of big data and those that actually are," he said. "In 2014, we should start to see and hear some significant results from organisations that have been quietly investing in advanced (big data) analytics in 2013."
However, there are barriers to this, Gardner says. IT departments will need to create a unified data architecture that enables business users to access the data and increment their existing models or drive new questions.
Organisation cultures may also need to change, moving from a view of analytics discovery as a discrete project to a core competency for the business. In a similar vein, those with the tools to access analytics will need to encompass the whole business, not just the IT department.
"In many cases, those that are making the change and driving a data-driven, analytic culture are companies that have a burning need to change their business models," Gardner said. "Some have an 'analytic agitator' — a real thought leader and visionary in their ranks, often at a senior level. A few organisations have both."
For Brock Douglas, business analytics leader at IBM, demand from the C-suite — in particular the CMO, CHR, CFO, and CISO — for data-driven decision making will change big data and analytics from hype to pervasive adoption, and from small projects to full deployments in 2014.
"To date, organisations have predominately been doing simple, siloed analytics projects," he said. "Moving forward, the culture within organisations will change from a siloed ownership of data and insights to a cross-enterprise approach. Data and the insights uncovered will be shared and applied across the organisation.
"Data and analytics will no longer be the sole responsibility of the IT function. Who within the organisation data analytics is being used by will evolve. To achieve this, marketing, sales, HR, finance, and supply chain will share the insights gained from data to inform a more holistic business strategy that delivers growth to the bottom line."
For Matt Zwolenski, director of technology at EMC ANZ, 2014 will see more companies let their big data projects off the leash.
"In 2013, many of these projects were kept under wraps, as organisations didn't want to reveal their competitive advantage," he said.
"However, next year, we will see more organisations talking about what they have done with big data, because it will help build their reputation. For example, GE is already talking about how it is using big data technologies to help airlines reduce their fuel consumption and operating costs."
In 2014, tighter government controls around privacy and data may actually result in improved access to data, Zwolenski said.
"As the NBN continues to roll out, the government will make more data accessible, which will spawn new ideas and new ways of using data," he said.
"This follows on from similar successes globally, such as in the UK, where the government has provided access to data from a variety of sources, encouraging people to build applications around the data. For example, an application detailing where pot holes are located in major roads allows cyclists and trucks to more effectively plan which route they take."