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Unlocking insights from data big and small

An overview and examples of hosted analytics solutions, both for data storage and for specific use cases.

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Data volumes just keep growing, with enterprises typically experiencing a doubling every two or three years, according to IDC. The question is how can organisations make use of that data and convert it into actionable information? Analytics is now established as the technology to do that, but "rolling your own" infrastructure may prove costly for most companies, even assuming they have the skills and other resources required.

Adopting a cloud-based solution may make more business sense, allowing customers to leverage the flexibility and affordability of this service model, where payment is closely tied to the level of service and volume of data. It could be a hybrid solution, too, where a cloud-based data warehouse stores the data, allowing analytics engines - your own or those of a third party provider - to access that data for processing purposes.

Many business analytics service providers ingest the customer's data and returns results in the form of web-based reports, so users need provide nothing the way of infrastructure or expertise -- just which questions they want answered.

A more specific example of analytics-driven initiatives comes from retail marketing company Catalina Marketing. The company analyses purchases made by shoppers at its customers' stores and, along with the receipt at the point of sale, prints coupons offering discounts on relevant products, a strategy that has boosted customers' revenues.

For example, if a retail shopper buys dog food, they clearly own or feed a canine, so other dog-related product offers should be relevant. It can also produce messages and posters for use in stores for offers that the analytics engine predicts will be popular in that area, based on previous shopping trends.

Catalina provides the storage and the expertise for its customers, accumulating data from over 25,000 grocery stores and 17,000 retail pharmacies in the US, as well as 10,000 retail outlets in Europe, the UK, and Japan. The daily transaction volume amounts to 800TB of data from trillions of transactions.

Cloud-based analytics solutions offer similar advantages to other cloud services, such as accessibility from anywhere using just a browser, the ability to pay only for what you use, and the ability to achieve large economies of scale. So while it remains early days in the journey towards universal cloud-based analytics services, it is clear that this is a hot trend to watch.