Cathy Wilks, PwC’s Data Assurance leader for the north
Big Data provides a huge opportunity for firms to gain greater insights, either over their competitors, their customers or their business operations. When we consider Big Data, we do not necessarily just mean data that is large in volume, we also mean data that consists of varying sources, and that is being produced at a rapid rate. These are commonly classified as the three ‘Vs’ of Big Data: volume, variety and velocity.
So what does this mean for businesses? Big Data has been a hot topic for many years. In a recent PwC IQ survey, 62% of respondents believed that Big Data will help deliver commercial advantage but 58% felt that moving from data to insight is a major challenge.
My opinion is that firstly, firms are no longer as constrained by the heavy costs of storage for data, so it is tempting to collect and store data ‘just in case’ it is useful for future analysis. Secondly, a large proportion of firms who are storing Big Data have no idea how or why they are going to analyse it. True Big Data analysis requires a significant shift from traditional databases and analysis techniques, and often an investment in data science skills.
There are also the legal and regulatory concerns with storing data unnecessarily. Will analysis using the data that you are storing be used for limited, specifically stated purposes? Will it be used in a way that is adequate, relevant and not excessive? Will you be able to appropriately delete data if a consumer requests their right to erasure under the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation? With potential fines of up to EUR 20,000,000 or 4% of annual worldwide turnover for breaches of the General Data Protection Regulation this is not something you want to have a slip up on.
For companies embarking on a Big Data journey, I would advise investing the time to create a clear plan of action. It’s not rocket science and the basics of who, what, why, when, where and how will provide a good foundation to work from. This will also help you to understand and quantify the risks involved, and how you can ensure compliance with current and upcoming regulations. In the unfortunate event of a regulatory breach, you will be in a more favourable position if you can evidence that you had a clear plan of action and had thought about the implications.
The good news is that in creating a plan, many companies find that what they want to achieve from a business context can often be dealt with by relatively standard analysis techniques and that the power of Big Data comes predominantly from the ‘variety’ aspect when data sources are linked to provide a more holistic view across an organisation and combined with external data sources to maximise the insights gained.
It is true that Big Data techniques can offer a fresh insight into customer behaviour and business performance which in turn can drive a competitive advantage, but this is not without its risks and upfront investment. Often significant results can be achieved with a more back to basics approach of planning, investing in improving data quality, understanding a clear business driver and using some more standard analysis techniques. If that doesn’t get you where you need to be, then ensure you have the appropriate knowledge and support before embarking on your Big Data journey.
North West, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)161 245 2000
North West, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 7841 468 175