Big data is one of the most talked about innovations of the 21st Century. Most businesses are all talking about it, but the majority are yet to fully embrace it. By not acknowledging big data, businesses are missing out on significant incremental improvements; it has the potential to answer any number of questions and dramatically increase productivity, decision making and improve customer retention.

Key discussions amongst big data thought leaders at the moment are examining the game changing insights available. James Kobielus, IBM’s big data evangelist for example has recently blogged about how big data is becoming increasingly important to the manufacturing industry. This demonstrates another use of big data and highlights the adaptability and benefits data can provide to business processes.

  1.  Decision Making

Business intelligence is something which many businesses claim to already have. Real business intelligence, of course ,is realistically down to the business leaders themselves, however, big data can equip businesses with the information to make better, faster decisions, removing the guess work.

Having all of the available information required to make a decision is critical in business. Research conducted by The Economist demonstrated that 9 out of 10 business leaders agreed that decisions made in the last three years would have been made better had all of the relevant information been put in front of them in from the start.

The data for business decisions is typically available, but often in different formats, in multiple locations. Using big data to drive decision making will mean all of the data from multiple sources is in one single place, available within a few clicks, providing businesses with the ability to make intelligent decisions.

  1.  Personalisation

The most valuable products or services available are usually the most personal. High end classic cars, for example, are always expensive because of their rarity and unique nature. Customers are always more interested in a personalised service than a general one and marketers are trying to make their communications more relevant to the individual. Big data plays a big part in modern day CRM systems, however marketing is far from the only way to use big data to personalise a customer relationship.

Within any business, a service or product is the core. Big data is now allowing products and services to become even more personalised. Within the e-learning space at my company for example, we are using big data to analyse how customers are using learning materials.

This information is being used to make relevant and timely learning suggestions to users, based on theirs and other users behaviours. This type of technology is already in use by the likes of Amazon and Netflix. Big data is allowing businesses to work out what their customers need and want before they even have the chance to ask, creating a personalised and higher value service.

  1.  Productivity

Productivity is one thing which businesses are regularly trying to increase through technology. Data on the circulation of internal and external information can be used to dramatically increase productivity. Companies can identify bottlenecks and places where transition is slow, and redistribute a workforce or solution accordingly.

In his book Social Physics, Professor Sandy Pentland describes how his team experimented with sociometric badges, monitoring interactions between workers at a call centre. Pentland was able to restructure coffee breaks enhancing the flow of ideas and changing conversations, resulting in a growth in productivity, all from the data collected.

The dramatic increase in productivity as a result of monitoring internal data can be incredibly useful, especially in larger organisations where identifying struggling or over performing departments and individuals is more difficult.

Strong decision making, increased productivity and a personalised service are three key components to successful business practice. Most businesses are already gathering data which can be tailored to be used in these three key areas. At Skillsoft, we had been collecting data for over 15 years before we began to fully utilise the potential insight, and have not looked back.

Big data is a big opportunity and ignoring the benefits will result in businesses falling behind their competitors.