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Staying above water

Data digital flowThe volume and flow of data has grown to unprecedented proportions – from a stream of information to a veritable tsunami. This enormous wave of data, from new and ever-expanding sources, has drowned out most traditional analytic tools. This leaves anyone tasked with leveraging this data struggling to keep their head above water.

“Our most recent Digital Universe study,” says Habib Mahakian, Regional General Manager, Gulf & Pakistan, EMC, “showed that the MENA region is continuing to lead the way when it comes to data growth with an aggressive growth rate of 3.8 percent.” This is due to the penetration of social platforms and mobility in addition to heavy penetration of video surveillance across key verticals like oil & gas, aviation, hospitality, retail and finance in addition to the many ambitious smart city initiatives in play all across the region.

Luckily, solution providers are continually working on new instruments for channeling data into manageable and practical bits of information. It is vital for businesses to keep abreast of the new and evolving data solutions so they do not find themselves adrift in the sea of Big Data.

The volume of data businesses must address is truly daunting. Ken Habson, Analytics Platform Leader, IBM Gulf & Levant says, “If you just look at volume, every day we create around 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that approximately 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.”

Sudesh Prabhu, CTO and Executive Director, SquareOne Technologies, also provides some alarming information at the size and rate in which Big Data continues to grow. “According to recent research, it is estimated that 40 zettabytes of data will be created by 2020 – 300 times more data than in 2005.”

Much of this massive increase in volume is due to the increase in the use of social media and mobile devices. As consumers rely on the Internet for more transactions than ever before, the complexity and amount of data collected continues to evolve. Yassine Zaied, EVP Middle East and Emerging Markets, Nexthink, explains the effect of this growth on the market, “According to Frost & Sullivan, the GCC’s Big Data market is set to grow nearly five-fold from $135.7 million in 2013 to $635.5 million in 2020,” he says.

Every industry can potentially use and benefit from Big Data. If analysed properly, the information acquired from Big Data can enable businesses to make informed decisions quickly that truly have the potential to set themselves apart in their industry.

However, simply collecting and storing Big Data is not enough. “There has to be a culture of evidence-based decision making in an organisation if it is going to make the best use of Big Data. If that culture is not present, then you can store all the data you want but you are not going to get returns on it,” says Ashley Woodbridge, Customer Solutions Architect, Cisco UAE.

Jamil Jeitani, Managing Director, Teradata, Saudi Arabia, also notes the importance of being prepared to tackle Big Data from the start. “The very first step in any analytical process related to Big Data is a clear formulation of business questions that you want to investigate and find the answers to.”

Jeitani admits that the definition of questions can sometimes take more time than the analysis itself “However,” she concludes, “the faster you fail, the sooner you will be able to find the correct answer to the problem.”

Big Data Analytics, as with any investment a business intends to make, requires a strategic and well-mapped plan of operation. Businesses need to decide what questions to ask, what patterns and trends need to be derived, how much data they need to collect, how often it’s collected, and how it will be used.

Big Data Analysis is driving the industry to create new positions like CDO with increasing importance. Vimal Sethi, Managing Director, Synechron, Middle East explains, “It has become imperative to appoint a Chief Data Officer (CDO) who can oversee the organisation’s data security, data quality, integrity, regulatory compliance and analytics. The firms having complex global operations and fragmented business units find it challenging to systematically consolidate their data and manage it centrally to make informed decisions.”

Ibrahim Akbas, Head of Business Intelligence, Middle East, agrees with the importance that a CDO will play as businesses continues to grow their use and reliance on Big Data. “The CDO will be the bridge between CTO who is generating the data and the other C levels. His job will be to convert data and information into practical, useful knowledge,” he says.

Many companies in the United States and Europe have already moved forward in the creations of the Chief Data Officer position, and many estimate the job will be prominent globally as soon as 2020. As the position continues to develop, businesses strive to define what a CDO’s responsibilities and skill set should include.

Karthik Krishnamurthy, Vice President, Enterprise Management, Cognizant, expounds on the development of the role of the CDO. “A CDO will need to concentrate on enabling data and information powering the enterprise by working with all stakeholders to ensure that quality, accuracy, security, usage, governance, availability, architectures and technology adoption are managed beyond silos and for the ultimate benefit of the enterprise,” he says.

There are, as in every business venture, potential pitfalls that must be avoided if organisations are to use Big Data Analytics successfully. Richard Harris, Solution Director, International Transportation and Government, Xerox, says, “Not all companies fully understand what Big Data Analytics is about. Starting with the assumption that everybody is fully knowledgeable about Big Data Analytics would seriously jeopardise the success of one’s BDA initiative.”

The first issue that a company needs to consider is asking the right questions and knowing what information is needed before opening the floodgates and allowing the data to flow in. Grant Amos, General Manager MEA, Actifio, adds, “Without caring for the prerequisites of distinguishing Production Data from Copy Data and virtualising their Copy Data for efficient usage, Big Data Analytics will become a challenging task.”

Getting started in Big Data Analytics can be a daunting process, but one well worth the time, risk and effort needed. Mr. Malcolm Noronha, COO Spectrum Group/ComGuard, offers this advice to companies looking into their first Big Data experience. “Businesses should start small. Business should first start building an EDW or DWH for OLAP, then see the results of the analytics and then add up datasets for further analytics and make the analytics more complex. It is best to achieve the goals in phases.”

The workload is considerable, and it requires having the right people and technology in place. However, when utilised properly, Big Data Analytics offers organisations solutions that can dramatically improve their business.

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