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January 11, 2016

Survey: Big Data Goes Mainstream

Financial services firms remain the biggest users of big data technologies in the most recent survey of adoption rates for Fortune 1000 companies.

However, the annual survey by management consultant NewVantage Partners found that the life sciences and healthcare sectors are rapidly embracing big data, beginning to develop what it called a “robust data management capabilities” akin to those employed by the financial services sector for several decades.

“It is clear that Big Data is now mainstream, and even the most cautious firms have adopted a Big Data strategy of some form,” concludes the corporate survey released earlier this month.

Among the life sciences and healthcare respondents were CVS Health (NYSE: CVS), drug makers Glaxo Smith Klein (NYSE: GSK) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), United Healthcare (NYSE: UNH) along with Harvard Medical School.

While the NewVantage survey remains heavily weighted toward the financial services sector, it nevertheless found that 62.5 percent of all respondents said they have “at least one instance of Big Data in production.” That percentage is nearly double the total in a 2013 survey by the consulting firm. Planned investments are expected to jump as more sectors like healthcare embrace data analytics.

Another key indicator of the importance of data in corporate operations is the rise of the chief data officer. In 2012, only 12 percent of Fortune 1000 companies surveyed had a CDO post. That total jumped to 54 percent in this year’s study. “The Chief Data Officer has emerged as an important voice in Fortune 1000 firms,” the survey’s authors asserted.

The biggest driver of investment in big data is the ability to gain new insights into business operations and customer preferences, with more than one-third of respondents citing those rationales for increased investment in the technology. Greater analytics capabilities were cited by only 9.3 percent of respondents.

“Firms are seeking to integrate more sources of data, including new sources as well as legacy sources, perhaps to avail themselves of the ‘long tail’ of Big Data,” the survey found.

Indeed, the ability to integrate more data from more sources was found to be a key driver of big data investments. Data “variety continues to trump volume and velocity for Fortune 1000 firms,” the survey’s authors stressed.

As more enterprises embraced big data, the traditional data management model also has been turned on its ear. The result is that the enterprise data warehouse approach is being replaced by new approaches that offer more flexibility in terms of analytics and data discovery. The survey found that more than 73 percent of those firms surveyed employ an “analytical sandbox” approach, big data laboratories or centers of excellence to glean insights from the combination of new and legacy data sources.

Meanwhile, the use of data “hubs” and “lakes” also is increasing, with about one-quarter of respondents saying these big data approaches can co-exist with conventional enterprise data warehouses.

Respondents also placed a premium on “data agility” as a way to get their arms around big data. “While firms seek to integrate more data, the availability of new data management approaches (e.g. Hadoop) is providing greater agility and nimbleness, with 30.9 [percent] of firms citing this as a top priority.”

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