Big data, big opportunity

Every day we create 2.5 trillion bytes of data. No less than 90% of the data that is currently available worldwide was created in the past two years. This enormous volume of unstructured data is referred to as ‘big data’. Stijn Viaene, Professor at Vlerick Business School and KU Leuven, sees big data as a big opportunity. “Data-driven decision-making offers countless opportunities if it is part of a scientific framework supported by a focused commitment.”

How should companies deal with bulk data? Text files, messages on social networking sites, click-stream data, digital photos… A thorough analysis of this data can yield useful information and new insights, and generate lucrative advantages. A few examples: an advantage over competing organisations, a more effective marketing strategy and a higher turnover. Stijn Viaene has been studying the link between business and IT for years, in view of added value creation for companies. “The current context of massive amounts of available data, advanced analytical methods, social software and cloud technology call for a detailed study”, he explains. The study at Vlerick Business School is being conducted in close collaboration with, among others, the ' Bringing IT to Board LevelDeloitte Chair 'and the ‘Business Process Management Network’ Research Centre.

A hype but also a reality

We are currently at the climax of the hype, and some players are at risk of losing touch with reality. Probably we expect too much from decisions based on big data”, says Stijn Viaene. He does, however, stress that an approach based on scientific principles is crucial for a qualitative data analysis. “The main goal of this analysis is to help companies make better decisions. That requires data scientists with a sharp insight into company data and statistics. Unfortunately this is where we’re faced with a skills gap: there are very few data scientists who actually have the necessary knowledge and experience.”

Focus, analyse and conclude

A company should adopt a highly focused approach and ask the following questions: what do we stand for? What is our strategy? How can we create added value considering the enormous amount of data we are confronted with? These are all questions that call for a clear answer to come to concrete results. Data analysis does not necessarily require major investments. However, it does need a targeted approach and a continuous assessment of what you’re learning and what it yields. Develop a culture based on data-driven decision-making and ensure everyone is on the same page.” Stijn Viaene concludes on a critical note: “Big data is full of correlations. However, correlations do not imply causality. Therefore, it is essential to always know precisely which data you’re dealing with, and to continuously ask yourself what a particular business phenomenon is truly about. Moreover, you should look at the results of the analysis with an open mind. Are you sure the data does not provide a distorted view of reality? What can you do with this data from an ethical and social point of view, and are you allowed to do so?” In conclusion, we’re ready to take on the big data challenge, provided it is done systematically and scientifically. We’re bound to pick up new insights along the way.

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