Big rewards from big data – and some provisos

“In the old days, data managers knew that if you put garbage into your database you were likely to get garbage out but for the most part, you could easily tell if the data is accurate,” says Edward Roske, an Oracle ACE Director of interRel Consulting.

“While big data can answer questions we have never previously been able to ask, we have to be aware that not all of the data we’re collecting is necessarily valid. There’s magic in the information if we only know what to ask… and we trust the data we’re analysing.”

Roske shared his unique views on the importance and pitfalls of big data in the business environment, at the recent Oracle User Group Conference in New Zealand.

Roske’s presentation is a reminder that traditional data analysis can still answer the majority of traditional questions posed by businesses, and clarifies that big data actually answers a completely different set of more difficult-to-answer questions.

Related: Data science in the forest

Roske’s top tips for organisations working on big data projects:

Understand what big data DOES and DOES NOT answer to fully realise its value. A CEO’s question such as, “Did our initiatives increase shareholder value?” can be answered with traditional analysis. A more ambiguous question from the CEO, such as, “Is the Board about to terminate me?” cannot be answered by running reports, but may be answered through social media analysis.

Understand the four V’s of big data as it explodes on all fronts: Volume, Velocity and Variety along with the 4th V, Veracity, referring to the fact that not all external data can be trusted to the same degree.

Big data analysis will benefit most businesses, the large and the small and those in between. US trends show an increase in big data use at both ends of the spectrum, mainly due to larger companies’ deep pockets and the huge insights small business owners can gain with each additional data point garnered from social media. “We’ll likely see the most growth in big data analytics from mid-size companies, which will need to determine how best to leverage the available information within their budgetary constraints.”

Big data analysis expands upon traditional analysis by not only including internal structured data associated with transactions and interactions, but by also incorporating internal and external unstructured data, such as emails, observations, social media, audio-to-text, photos and videos.

Think big and imagine what your business could do with the answers to the questions you never dared to ask. Edward Roske, interRel Consulting

To immediately get value from big data, follow a simple four-step process: Collect it, sort it, arrange it and present it visually.

Use big data to challenge and test long held assumptions. The apple pie appears to be the favourite pie in the US on all surveys and other statistics. But using big data, the picture changes as the pie size changes and the apple pie slips down the charts. If you are an apple pie maker this sort of information could transform your business.

Tread carefully as you use the insights. Target Corporation in the US, in a celebrated case, knew of a teen’s pregnancy by tracking her spending and interests. The company sent her special offers for baby products she might need. Her father, who did not know of the pregnancy, complained to the store.

Ensure your organisation has the right tools to make sense of the data, he states.

“Think big and imagine what your business could do with the answers to the questions you never dared to ask.”

Jennie Vickers ( is principal of Zeopard Law.

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