‘Big Data’ is getting bigger – highlighting new business opportunities – but also exposing greater IT challenges. However, it is not about information by itself, but how information can be transformed into innovation. Each corporation has unique data on its markets, customers and competitors, which can be used to create competitive advantage and drive the business.

Data can provide valuable insight into customer behaviour and preferences, emerging market trends, or market stagnation, helping to shape what the company sells and when and how they sell it. But this same data often contains confidential and proprietary information, which requires the corporation to comply with external rules prescribed by industry bodies or governments.

However, as big data volumes continue to increase, many enterprises are struggling to expand their staff or systems correspondingly. Having the tools to interpret, secure, and manage data, and finding effective strategies for dealing properly with big data, extracting its value without unnecessary costs, is fast moving up the list of corporate priorities.

Increased flexibility with cloud-based services

Unmanaged data growth creates an agility challenge, as business infrastructure is not aligned to business need. The complex mix of disparate infrastructure components and “data everywhere” is not scalable over the long run. What’s more, the lack of an extensible architecture impacts a corporation’s ability to leverage information in order to achieve business goals.

New computing models are increasingly being seen as the key to big data infrastructure. Cloud-based computing solutions – public, private or hybrid – can provide organisations with new economies of scale, agility and flexibility compared to traditional IT environments.

Today’s cloud-based services also give organisations powerful new options to move workloads easily between the corporate data centre and the cloud. Leading-edge cloud providers take it one step further and create transparency by providing physical access to the corporation’s own data in the cloud provider’s data centre. This helps CIOs find peace of mind because they know where the data is and how it is being cared for.

But probably the biggest advantage is that cloud computing offers security that is often stronger than that typically found in today’s enterprise. Cloud providers have specially-trained security teams, a robust environment, and security protocols that stay current with the latest threats—something most IT organisations struggle to keep up with.

IDC estimates that by 2015 nearly 20 percent of all information will be touched by cloud computing service providers – meaning that somewhere in a byte’s journey from originator to disposal it will be stored or processed in a cloud – and as much as 10 percent will be maintained in a cloud. The idea of storing big data in the cloud is not only one that seems set to stay – it’s one that is already here.

Harnessing intelligence – the chief innovation officer

The most important challenge for organisations looking at harnessing the information to be found in big data is to turn this into intelligence. Too often, enterprises focus on big data storage and security, but equal emphasis should be placed on identifying data capture, search and discovery tools which can help businesses turn currently unstructured data into insight.

The opportunities this intelligence brings needs to be embraced by leaders in every sector and not just a few data-oriented managers. Predictive analytics, for example, based on vast amounts of synthesized data, are increasingly becoming an important tool for the enterprise, helping to shape marketing campaigns, direct sales, improve solutions or even define business processes.

Enterprise Data Management solutions offer a strategy for defining, integrating, and retrieving data which can help corporations get a better handle on what data they have, where it is, how it is being used, how it should be secured, and how long it should be retained.

This can bring huge benefits to internal applications such as financial services, Human Resources, Business Intelligence, and Customer Relationship Management, as well as for external communication with suppliers, shareholders, partners, and regulators.

In their unique positions, chief information officers (CIOs) are perfectly placed to become new thinkers of the enterprise and proactively help drive business transformation and innovation. In essence chief information officers will become chief ‘innovation’ officers, using their new positioning at the heart of the enterprise with new innovative technologies to help transform the way business operates.

Companies that harness the intelligence inherent in their data, secure it and act on it accordingly can expect to gain a significant competitive edge. And a new breed of CIO will lie at the heart of this information feed into the business, proactively using a raft of new services to help their enterprise colleagues realise the benefits of big data faster and more completely, to build their future business success.