I recently came across an article in the Financial Times exploring the opportunities of data capture and analytics. Not only did the article re-iterate how Barack Obama used big data as a core part of his re-election campaign, but according to a recent report by Policy Exchange, using big data could save the public sector up to £33bn a year in lost time – the equivalent to between £250 and £500 per head of the population.

Fascinating though these reference points are, statistics like these are not news to the technology industry. Rallying cries to harness the power of big data have dominated the technology sector for many months (even years) now. Big data may have been integral to Obama’s success, but have businesses across the UK come round to the idea of big data, and do they truly understand the potential benefits for their organisation?

According to the FT article, the answer is no. Holger Kisker, a principal analyst at Forrester, said “In the US, companies are much more open to taking risks, but in the UK and Europe, companies are holding back and we are moving toward a situation of competitive disadvantage over time.” Clearly a cultural shift in the attitude towards big data in the UK is long overdue.

Big Data Means Big Changes

Today, the pace of business is changing at a rate unlike anything we have ever seen before. The time it takes to get a new product to market has gone from years to months. What makes matters even more challenging is the change in how we live and work; blurring boundaries between our personal and professional use of technology has led many of us to use several devices in our day jobs whilst expecting them to perform in our personal lives too, regardless of geographic location.

To a certain extent we are always ‘online’ and as a result the frequency at which we create new data is what’s, in part, led to the deluge of information businesses are now sitting on. Now, extrapolate this from the perspective of an individual employee to cover a whole department, line of business or market unit, and then add customers, suppliers and partners into the equation.

All of a sudden you have an astronomical amount of information being generated on a daily basis which, if analysed and understood, can deliver a 360 degree picture of your business at any point in time. The benefit here, and the real competitive advantage Obama demonstrated in his re-election campaign, is that responding to this information as its filtered back into the business enables you to become more agile to change; responding to market fluctuations or an increase in demand.

Analytics Across The Board

As a result of an increasingly competitive economy, intuitive decision making across any aspect of an organisation is no longer enough. In order to be responsive to risk and make evidence-based decisions, analytics is fast becoming a strategic imperative but the IT department isn’t solely responsible for its implementation or use.

It’s important for different business functions – from the CIO to the CFO – to think about where analytics will enable them and their teams to run more efficiently. The successful businesses of the next five years will be those that effectively analyse the information they have available to generate a clear and complete picture of their business. Making the most of available data will put you in the best position possible to make informed and accurate decisions.

So where to go from here? Companies are faced with an explosion in the amount and type of datasets now available on everything from customers to sales, and those that fail to utilise this rich information will fall behind competition; demand for customer centric (rather than product centric) businesses is more prevalent than ever before.

Combine this with the fact that data is increasingly visual, current and actionable, and it’s clear to see that analytics has the potential to drive real value. But what will really set the competition apart will be the ability to affect a cultural shift to one of greater collaboration. Performing more comprehensive analysis of data and, most importantly, avoiding information silos by encouraging integration across the business is where analytics will come into its own. Data should not be segregated as the responsibility of one individual or department and should be front of mind of everyone, failure to recognise this will result in failure overall.