Big data – finding the useful information hidden inside the vast piles of unstructured data that businesses have been hoarding for years – has been a hot topic this year. And while many vendors are keen to discuss the benefits of big data projects it seems that right now CIOs are happy to listen – but not spend big.

In a poll of TechRepublic’s exclusive CIO Jury, when asked “Does your organisation have big data as part of your budget and plans for 2013?” the response was no by a margin of eight to four, suggesting that big data still has a way to go to win over CIOs. In particular, CIOs seem reluctant to use the term ‘big data’ even if they have projects planned to look at unstructured data.

Mike Roberts, IT director, The London Clinic said: “We don’t recognise ‘big’ data, just data and the need to turn it into useful information. Big or small the need is for clear information.”

Kevin Leypoldt, IS director at Structural Integrity Associates said as a multi-disciplinary engineering firm, 99 per cent of the data in his organisation is unstructured data. “We are experimenting unifying the indexed database (Microsoft Enterprise search) of this unstructured data with some of our existing databases and applications. However, I see this falling more under ‘data mining’ than ‘big data’.

Several of the CIOs who responded reported they intend to investigate big data this year and could include it in their 2014 plans instead, while Kelly Bodway, VP of IT at Universal Lighting Technologies said big data is “cost prohibitive at this point”.

However, Ibukun Adebayo, director of IT at Turning Point said : “While Turning Point has not been swept away by the hype of the terminology ‘big data’, in 2013 we’re definitely going to be taking a keen look at the unstructured data that exists across the organisation in an attempt to consolidate this data before weeding out the gems of information that can be converted into knowledge and business intelligence, and eventually exploited to provide us with competitive advantage as a social enterprise.”

Shaun Beighle, CIO at the International Republican Institute said he planned to start researching what a big data project might look like. “The scale of such a project is simply so vast that the education of stakeholders, who very well may not even realize that they are a stakeholder, must be done to build the goals for any such system. Without a clear understanding of what we hope to extract from all that data, throwing money and resources into the project would be a waste.”

Mark Foulsham, CIO at esure said dealing with the exponential growth of data is a serious challenge for organisations. “More so than ever, advantage is about the intelligence applied to data rather than just than the classic paradigm ‘levering technology for competitive advantage’.

He added: “Essentially this means turning data in to knowledge, making decisions quickly and intelligently then re-investing the insight gained.  Without investing in big data businesses will miss out on the big opportunities that will drive them forward.”

Another member of the CIO Jury group, Will Weider, CIO at Ministry Health Care said the real problem with big data is that most people talking about it don’t understand the topic.

“In my mind, the real beak-through is that new technologies, such as Hadoop, make it much faster to perform ETL functions on large data sets. This is a huge breakthrough to organizations that had ETL jobs that run for hours. Sometimes it is a challenge to perform a nightly update of a data warehouse in the 24 hour window before the next update needs to start. Hadoop is a solution to that problem, and other problems. But, it is not data magic and it doesn’t make huge data warehouses instantly fountains of new knowledge.”

This week’s CIO Jury was

  • Richard Storey, head of IT at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
  • Steve Fountain, IT director at Markel International
  • Mike Roberts, IT director, The London Clinic
  • Reji Mathew, IT director, Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network
  • Ibukun Adebayo, director of IT, Turning Point
  • Graham Yellowley, CTO of equities, risk and client service at LCH Clearnet
  • Shaun Beighle, CIO, International Republican Institute
  • Delano A. Gordon, CIO Roofing Supply Group, LLC
  • Randy Backus, Director of IT Wallingford Public Schools
  • Mark Foulsham, CIO esure
  • Kelly Bodway  VP of IT, Universal Lighting Technologies
  • Kevin Leypoldt, IS Director Structural Integrity Associates

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