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The unvarnished truth about Big Data

Debarati Roy | May 23, 2013
There are plenty who believe that beneath big data’s shiny exterior, companies will find a hollow ring of tin plating. Will big data reveal itself to be just another IT fad?

Some of Batra's peers shrug off work similar to his as examples of "high-powered analytics"--which demonstrates big data's lack of a universally-accepted definition.

CIOs on the big data trail like Batra, in the meanwhile, aren't waiting.

Big Data's Big Drivers
As easy as it is to take down big data—and the concept has its share of skeptics--there's plenty of proof that the technology is here to stay. For one, with the amount of data we produce, we've created an ideal breeding ground for it. Everyday, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. Ninety percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. The potential of all of that data is making businesses salivate.

"With the rise of social media, mobility, M2M communication, RFID, GPS, etcetera, business can now tap into data they never knew existed earlier," says Srinivas Peddada, EVP and CIO at SKS Microfinance.

Part of big data's charm is the more immediate results it offers, compared to traditional analytical tools like business intelligence. Earlier, for example, a new product's success could only be measured after a company's marketing team ran a survey. But in the time it took marketing to gather feedback and decide what colors to use in its presentation, unsatisfied customers already moved to the competition.

That won't happen at Target, the second-largest discount retailer in the US, if Natarajan 'Nat' Malupillai, director, digital analytics at Target's India operations, has his way. Malupillai is creating a system--it's under pilot--that leverages social media and other data available on public domains to improve what Target is showing customers shopping on its website. In addition, Malupillai says, "We would like to leverage the big data solution to compare item attributes and prices in the market place to provide the best offering for Target customers."

"In the past, analytics sat separate from transactions and could only do what we call passive analysis," says Malupillai. Any strategy a company wished to put into action based on a customer's behavior or browsing pattern could only be post facto. But big data's changing that. "From suggestions on what a customer could buy next or special offers, we should be able to get more interactive with customers on the go, and close the loop within one transaction cycle, says Malupillai.

For CXOs, immediate intelligence is an irresistible idea. So much so that businesses are unclenching their tightly-closed fists to fund big data projects. The average amount Indian companies spent on big data in 2012 was $ 9.5 million (about Rs 52 crore), according to a 2013 TCS study on big data, Indian enterprises aren't the only ones spending big on big data. Technology providers are investing large amounts to scale up their big data portfolio. In the last five years, IBM, for example, has invested over $16 billion (about Rs 88,000 crore) in 30 acquisitions to strengthen its family of big data products. At the other end of the size spectrum, millions of venture capitalist rupees are being pumped into big data start-ups, creating much-needed innovation.


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