Why are companies in the UK dragging their heels when it comes to implementing Big Data technology?
Whilst it may be agreed that every company should benefit from having access to a Big Data platform, it is difficult to predict the amount and manner by which ROI (return on investment) is calculated. Even so, I find it very surprising to find that 60% of medium to large UK companies are still without Big Data technology in 2016.
I’ve focused on this technology exclusively since 2013 and the annual figures (measuring the numbers of new Big Data platforms to add to those already up and running) clearly show that the UK is still uncertain about how to make use of this technology. The UK (and the rest of Europe) are some way behind when it comes to global participation in Big Data technology. Asia-Pacific businesses lead the way with over 60% already using a platform. Analysis from research firm, Kable, highlighted the different motivating factors behind executives’ decisions to build such platforms and deploy Big Data solutions. Priorities appear to have evolved as the technology becomes more established. For example, ‘Understanding Consumer Behaviour’ and improved ‘Decision Making & Strategy’ were the highest ranked priorities in Asia-Pacific based companies. Whereas, UK & Europe business continue to focus on ‘Interoperability’ and ‘data volume handling’ as their goals. These were previously most highly desired in Asia-Pacific in recent past years. However, better understanding of the technology’s capabilities and long-term potential have led to a revision of their targeted goals and, as a result, companies are now prepared to test more new concepts and ideas using their Big Data platform.
The report says: "Companies are setting new priorities that focus on building customer trust, transparency, and business capabilities for higher profitability.
"Therefore, companies adopt the big data platforms to study the massive amounts of data on their customers and introduce new offerings for specific target segments, such as location and demographics."
As someone who has championed Big Data technology from the moment I first read about this new concept, I simply cannot understand why any company would not want to make this investment. The benefits are proven, even if they are not exactly quantifiable. There are no real practicality issues such as the lack of availability of experienced personnel. The technology itself appears to be straightforward to implement. The only potential area of uncertainty is perhaps the most obvious. That is, once the Big Data platform is built, what do we actually do with it? How do we improve our knowledge of ‘Customer Behaviour’ and how can we specifically enhance productivity and profitability by ‘developing actionable business insight and knowledge base’? My theory for the UK’s reluctance to take Big Data to its hearts is simple. Many executives in the UK may be struggling to define big data and its potential benefits. Many companies fall into the trap of thinking that more data automatically equals greater insight. In fact, businesses and data scientists need to remember that smarter thinking will always trump bigger thinking, so no matter how many facts and figures you have at your disposal, effective Big Data analysis is all about asking the right questions.
In order to come up with the right questions for your business, you need to assess what exactly you want to get from the data. Running data through an analytics program will not spontaneously provide ground-breaking insights, without some structure in place first.
Companies need to decide how they need to benefit from Big Data benefits so that work can be prioritised and goals can be achieved. ‘Personalisation’, for example, focuses on creating the perfect online experience for shoppers. The ability to test every possible scenario and accurately measure how effective each will be to bring new potential buyers to their website, is achievable only with Big Data technology and by applying innovative Insight questioning techniques.
A customer’s precise online journey will have been painstakingly created in the firm’s customer testing labs. Again, teams of testers will have played out hundreds of different routes, with their reactions and responses measured and scored. Online journeys which achieve optimum customer satisfaction along with successful sales ‘clicks’ will increase profitability and reduce ‘churn’. Similarly, the content and frequency of post purchase contact, will have been only selected and put in place after rigorous testing projects, carried out exclusively on the Big Data platform.
The questions that can be answered by Big Data systems will be very different to the questions that are being answered by a company’s existing data systems. Asking the right questions also leads to more useful insights because it can narrow the data sets that you are working with. This, in turn, leads to faster analysis and also reduces the likelihood of forming misleading or erroneous conclusions. One of the biggest challenges facing early adopters of Big Data technology is that of how to maintain data quality in the Big Data deluge.
Businesses already have access to so much data, whether that’s internal or relating to their customers. The availability of and access to data has increased so quickly in the last 5 years and this is likely to be exacerbated by the development of the Internet of Things over the next few years. A business needs to understand how Big Data analytics can be used to increase existing strengths or address areas of weakness if it is to achieve the longer term potential benefits that are already being reported in other parts of the world. Companies in the UK appear to still see this as an opportunity to improve technology and enable access to better quality, shared data systems. Big Data offers so much more to every business that understands its capabilities in relation to their individual, unique business needs and to the projects which have been prioritised as integral to their targets and ambition.
The ‘early adopters’ in the UK are enjoying huge levels of success and often they are reporting that Big Data technology is at the very centre of their achievements. If I’m reading these reports very regularly then so must the CTO’s and CFO’s of those companies who are not able to report their progress in such glowing terms.
Steve Munro is a specialist Big Data recruiter at Agile Recruitment Limited