'Big data' to inspire streamlined analytics programs in '12, IIA predicts

Faculty members from the International Institute for Analytics, a research firm that focuses on how organizations use analytics, weigh in on their predictions for 2012.

For the past year, the term “big data” -- or data rapidly growing in both size and type -- has gained striking momentum with vendors peddling new products and businesses inquiring how to manage and analyze the deluge. That trend is likely to continue in 2012, according to the International Institute for Analytics (IIA).

The faculty members of the IIA -- which was co-founded by Babson College professor Thomas Davenport, who also serves as the firm’s research director -- recently shared their predictions for what’s in store for the new year. Those predictions ranged from a growing interest in analytics programs and health care to the continued evolution of social media and big data. But thematically, many of the institute’s predictions hinged on a more streamlined, more collaborative business environment that takes advantage of new (and old) tools and the employees who use them.

Here are some of the highlights from IIA’s list of predictions:

Talent, talent, talent. In May 2011, a McKinsey & Co. report carried some striking statistics on the analytics talent gap. The report predicted that by 2018, the United States could face a talent deficit of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills.

Indeed, the demand for analytics talent will continue to grow, said Jeremy Shapiro, executive director in human resources at Morgan Stanley, but at a slower pace. He based his prediction on recruiting trends that considered the market as a whole as well as specific industries, such as insurance.

“What we’re seeing is that, while we’re not a mature talent market quite yet, we’re also not a young‘un,” he said. “So I guess we’re teenagers in this regard.”

Shapiro also considered data suggesting that chief information officers will invest in both in-memory technology and data warehousing in 2012, which he said should drive job demand.

And, after surveying recruiters, Shapiro said an interesting trend emerged in 2011 and is likely to continue in 2012.

“[Businesses] aren’t looking for the director of analytics,” he said, “but more the direct contributor that’s less statistician and more that combination of good communicator, good requirements gatherer that can also run regression and can run analytics where they need to.”

Broadening the data scope. As businesses master analytics on traditional, structured data, they will also strive to take advantage of the untapped potential of semi-structured and unstructured data such as text.

“In order to be innovative and bring new insights into the organization, we have to start looking at the 80% of information that is unstructured or semi-structured within our organization,” said Joy King, a life sciences industry consultant for Teradata.

For example, King referenced syndicated prescription data purchased by biopharmaceutical companies. She called this “rearview mirror data” that doesn’t capture details on the physician, the sales representative -- key players in the transaction -- or the interaction between the two. That kind of information could be enhanced by additional, nontraditional data sources.

Businesses aiming to take advantage of both traditional and nontraditional data sources will need what King calls “a complete analytical ecosystem,” a system that includes old and new ways of exploiting and accessing data. That means having a team of data scientists and mathematicians, someone who can tap into data stores and an IT department that can make the data available.

Social media and text analytics to play even larger role. While IIA members disagreed on the immediate necessity of text and social media analytics when compared with the remaining potential of traditional data sets, they also recognized the importance for building the channels that bring that kind of data into a business.

“In 2011, 86% of the top 500 retailers have Facebook pages and 69% have Twitter feeds,” said Cyndy Renfrow, senior director for global business development at the SAS Institute.

This is partially driven by customer expectation, Renfrow said, and that demand will help social media and text analytics to become more mainstreamed in 2012 as businesses chase after the elusive 360-degree view of their customers.

“With the widespread recognition by the consumer and the proliferation of the consumer’s usage of Facebook and Twitter, consumers are demanding transparent, seamless experiences coming into the retailer regardless of which channel [they’re using],” she said. “And they’re also asking for and demanding simultaneous access to those channels.”

The technology for social media and text analytics is still in its infancy, but Renfrow said it’s changing so rapidly that within 24 to 36 months, businesses will need these tools -- sold by vendors like SAS, for example -- to remain competitive, keep up with demand and create a seamless analytics environment.

“Social media and text analysis is all around analytics related to the consumer and the brand,” Renfrow said. “Those analytics, we believe, will be the bridge to breaking down silos retailers are in today where both our processes and our walls are siloed from marketing to merchandising to logistics as well as siloed in the channel.”

Tear down that wall. That word siloed is common when discussing issues with storing, managing and analyzing data, but it can also be used to describe the isolation between departments within an organization. This year, Gary Cokins, a principal consultant of global business advisory services for SAS, believes the classic disconnect between IT and analysts will start to crumble.

“It’s going to require collaboration, compromise and cooperation between the two,” Cokins said.

Cokins described how analysts and IT professionals view each other for what they don’t bring to the table rather than what they do. Analysts feel as though IT controls access to data and takes too much time to process a request; IT sees analysts as having little concern for data governance and security.

That could change in 2012, said Cokins, who believes a “power and influence shift” from IT functions to the analyst function will require the wall to come down so that the two teams can work together.

“I don’t see this as a battle, but more of a coming to terms with a better understanding and appreciation of the changing roles that each is going through.”

Big data will inspire changes to privacy policies. Because companies are gathering additional -- and increasingly sensitive -- data, such as location information and medical records, businesses will need to re-evaluate their privacy policies.

“What we’re going to see in the realm of big data will be privacy coming as a discussion point in front of, or alongside of, the collection and analytics being done,” said Bill Franks, the chief analytics officer for Teradata’s global alliance programs.

For example, though the recent news that some smartphones are tracking every keystroke with the help of software from Carrier IQ didn’t create the customer ire Franks expected, he believes it’s only a matter of time. He advises businesses to think through their policies carefully, cautiously and even conservatively before collecting data and, more importantly, using it.

“I’m hoping companies will be diligent and aggressive themselves because if they don’t, we’ll end up with what could be some overzealous regulation from legal authorities,” he said. “As an analytics professional, I’d like to retain as much flexibility as possible within boundaries.”

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