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The wealth of strategic, competitive, and market intelligence gathering opportunities in Big Data are buried too deep without a robust analytics solution to make sense of available information.

Big Data – the continuously expanding collection of structured and unstructured data generated by nearly all aspects of modern life – is a hot topic among tech-savvy business executives. They join the ranks of entrepreneurs, IT experts, and corporate CTOs in recognizing the potential of leveraging corporate, consumer, and competitive data to generate strategic insights and enable better decisions.

MIT researchers estimate online activity will generate 5.6 zettabytes of data by 2015 and 58.8 zettabytes by 2020, a 2,000 percent increase over 2012. “Big Data” is essentially the aggregation of three categories of scattered data:

-  Corporate data covers traditional metrics, such as sales and expenses, but also includes the petabytes of data generated during the course of daily B2B and B2C transactions.

-  Consumer data includes data collected from a wide variety of sources, including social media, consumer loyalty programs, browsing history, transaction records, and any other publicly-available or privately-purchasable data used to build consumer profiles.

-  Competitive data is a blend of competitor corporate data, consumer data, and market data, which together provide a more comprehensive picture of the market environment.

Unfortunately, this data is too voluminous and too complex to comprehend without the help of technology. Big Data analytics covers a wide range of technologies – such as text analytics, machine learning, predictive analytics, data mining, and natural language processing – that work to identify complex, multivariable relationships that would be hidden to an analyst or basic software program. Already, the market is worth an estimated $5.5 billion and all indicators point to rapid growth over the next decade.

As far back as 2011, IBM predicted it would earn $16 billion annually from Big Data. Industry-leading companies such as Amazon, Bank of America, GE, Macy’s, UnitedHealthcare, and UPS are some of the many companies recognizing the potential of Big Data to lower costs, increase revenue, and deepe customer satisfaction.

The benefits of Big Data are not limited to global firms, however, and even small companies can realize significant strategic benefit. If your company is exploring how to best exploit Big Data analytics, keep the following points in mind:

-  Understand underlying technologies – Hadoop, MapReduce, and NoSQL databases are the most common, but startups are actively developing alternative technologies and creating new options with existing technologies; the Big Data Startups blog currently lists over 110 Big Data startups from around the world, and nearly all include an analytics service. Select one suited to your organization’s available data and business needs – InfoQ provides a primer on how to choose the right Big Data platform, for example.

-  Develop internal talent – Analyzing Big Data can be a challenging proposition, and even talented researchers may not have the appropriate background or knowledge. Invest in employees by educating internal users on how to leverage Big Data insights, and consider partnering with an experienced management or IT consulting firm that offers courses or expert training.

-  Dedicate IT infrastructure – Most organizations will need to connect to third-party data warehouses or integrate new systems into existing IT networks. And work with IT personnel to avoid technical glitches while implementing a Big Data analytics capability.

-  Determine Big Data goals – Identify your top Big Data strategic questions, then target the data that will best answer them. Doing so will maintain internal focus and make it easier to gain familiarity analyzing large-scale data sets.

Every company stands to benefit from the Big Data trend, from global multinationals to smaller independent firms. The massive and continually growing assortment of corporate, consumer, and competitive data offers the opportunity to gain new strategic insights, given the right analytical tools. Take advantage of the options in this growing market and use the above tips to select an analytics solution that meets your organization’s data needs.