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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?

Gupta isn't convinced that data gathered from sources like social media can be trusted to base critical business decisions on. "The probability that businesses can derive value from this data is low, although it does lend itself to insights that have been unavailable thus far," says Gupta.

Then there is funding. "Let's agree, big data doesn't come cheap," says Malupillai. "During these initial stages, when the technology is not mature and projects are in beta phase, it is important that your business sees value in what you are doing," he says.

nat Malupillai

Gupta doubts businesses will see value in big data just yet. "It's extremely difficult right now to provide any meaningful model which can calculate the ROI of big data investments for a typical commercial enterprise," he says. "There is so much hype that CIOs may get initial investments cleared, but the second round of funding will be difficult to justify."

Malupillai says that CIOs who are doubtful about the ROI of big data should start small and use big-data-as-a-service models. "To begin with, CIOs can pick a small set of data (say 10-20 percent of marketing or sales data), be it structured or unstructured, and use the service of a data analysis firm to analyze that data," says Malupillai.

Embracing big-data-as-a-service is an approach Bahl from Forrester suggests, too. "CIOs can explore cloud-based models for faster business results from their big data investments," he says.

That, however, doesn't solve another issue: All the legacy data sitting in enterprise systems that hasn't been mined for intelligence yet. "People talk about big data and unstructured data without having a clue about data sitting in their data base. That's just blasphemy," says Peddada at SKS Microfinance.

According to Symantec's 2012 State of the Information Survey, 66 percent of Indian businesses say they haven't got to a "single version of the truth". Another 63 percent say it's too difficult to find the right information at the right time. That's followed by 43 percent who are unsure how old information is.

At SKS Microfinance, Peddada is currently dealing with large volumes of structured data. The micro-finance company has a presence in about 20 Indian states, with about 7 million customers. It has about 10,000 employees, and a large field force that goes into India's rural interiors to disburse loans and collect payments. "The amount of transactional data we deal with is huge. Customers make payments on a weekly basis and there are as many as 1,000 reports that need to be generated in a month," says Peddada.


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