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SA business sees value in big data

Although the majority of IT decision-makers see big data as adding value to business, many businesses have yet to take advantage of it, says EMC.

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Eighty-three percent of decision-makers indicate that business decisions could be improved by incorporating better use of data.

This is according to EMC's local survey of 803 IT decision-makers. The findings indicate the challenges and opportunities of big data and IT transformation, according to the company.

Despite the growing profile of big data, nearly a quarter (23%) of South African companies surveyed do not have big data analytics implementation plans. For 64% of respondents, budget was the most important factor in decision-making, but the most common inhibitor for big data adoption was a lack of proven return on investment (ROI) or a clear business case (56%).

"Big data today is where cloud was two or three years ago," said Howard Elias, president and COO of global enterprise services at EMC, speaking at the EMC Forum in Johannesburg yesterday. He argued that, while cloud uptake is becoming more standard, big data is still new on the scene and incorporates unfamiliar types of data.

It's not just that there's a lot of data or that this data is growing very fast, but rather that the data is unstructured, he said, adding that this is the fastest growing type of data in the enterprise today. "It's data in lots of different silos, lots of different apps, and data outside of the data centre, in the public domain, created by customers and partners," said Elias. "It's data that you want to gain insight into, not next week or next month, but in real time. As a customer walks into your store, you want to know who that is, what their propensity to buy is, and put that offer on their cellphone.

"Structured and unstructured is only part of the story," he added. "The amount of data created by fingers and thumbs, by humans, will be dwarfed by the data created by machines. The Internet of Things will absolutely overshadow the amount of data created by humans."

Because of the vastly new types of data, as well as dramatically increasing volumes, yesterday's apps are now insufficient, emphasised Elias. "We need new apps built in a new and different way. Social apps, primarily accessed by mobile devices, are very different from what we saw on PC screens. New apps for big data must come in very different flavours."

According to the EMC survey, 53% of local respondents agreed that their senior teams use insights from big data to improve their business decisions, while 38% indicated that big data analytics have given them a competitive advantage. Nearly two thirds believe that industries using big data tools are more likely to succeed. In particular, the majority of respondents (61%) indicated that they felt big data analytics would become more crucial in identifying and fending off cyber attacks.

According to Servaas Venter, country manager at EMC Southern Africa, the research shows that companies in SA are increasingly seeing the transformative benefits achievable with big data analytics technology. "Not only are senior management executives engaging with the idea of big data analytics, but the majority of businesses are aware of the huge competitive advantages the technology brings, as well as the security benefits."

The growth of big data is part of the overall IT transformation already well under way in SA, Venter added. "The majority of businesses in the region have already set out to virtualise and create cloud-enabled businesses, and, even more incredibly, some have created a fully software-defined infrastructure. This approach, combined with big data analytics, will see the agility and competitiveness of South African businesses increase massively."

The South African segment of the worldwide survey will be included in the global results, to be announced in December.

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