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Taming the Big Data Beast

When it comes to effective mobile strategy, it’s not Big Data, it’s the right data

If you're not convinced the hype around Big Data is entirely justified, consider the following statistics: in the time it takes an average person to read this article, 72 petabytes of data (that's 72 x 1015 if you're counting) will have been added to the global information pool. Each hour, Walmart processes more than 1 million customer transactions, logging data into databases estimated to contain more than 2.5 petabytes of data - the equivalent of 167 times the information contained in all the books in the U.S. Library of Congress. Facebook uploads 500 terabytes of new information daily. The volume of global business data generated is doubling every 1.2 years.

The Big Data phenomenon is real. It's happening in every sector of the economy, from government to education to private business. In addition to the oft-cited storage, security and analysis questions Big Data brings, it also has an unprecedented opportunity to impact your company and its mobile strategy.

The explosion of mobile device use among business users, for example, is often cited by analysts as one of the main sources of today's data explosion. IT analyst firm Gartner predicts that by 2015 mobile phones will outnumber PCs as the most popular web access devices. Users with the ability to capture date on mobile devices, through bar codes, GPS apps, QR readers, or manual input, have greatly contributed to the growing data stream.

Big Data and mobility share much more than a cause and effect relationship or places on Gartner's list of top 2013 technology trends. They are linked in ways that offer game-changing value-creation opportunities to companies that effectively tie the collection of information to the delivery of real-time decision support to mobile executives. While members of the executive and IT teams continue the debate over data storage options, methods of securing and managing privacy concerns around customer data continue to linger. Mobility executives also face their own set of unique Big Data challenges including the best ways to analyze the dramatically expanding information flow.

If managed correctly, leveraging Big Data as a key component of your mobile development strategy can pay off in increased sales, better corporate performance and improved efficiency. If not properly managed, you'll simply be contributing to the $900 billion in information overload costs industries suffer every year.

More important, it's not just about Big Data, it's about getting the right data into the hands of the right person, at the right time. That means having the strategy, applications and tools necessary to ensure efficient two-way interaction between remote workers and their corporate data systems.

The core of the Big Data promise is developing a strategy that delivers key real-time information to remote users and allows them to access the specific information they need to perform critical tasks, i.e., prep for a sales call, manage a customer issue or drive a critical business decision. Keeping these same remote users insulated from extraneous information that is out of date or unnecessary must also be a part of an effective mobile data management strategy.

How you build mobility solutions that combine multiple data sets into a single usable data-driven application could make the difference between the critical app sales depends on and the one that is abandoned as irrelevant or too difficult to use. Recent studies have shown that sales reps access data from as many as 15 different sources to collect valuable information about contacts and prospects. And a significant majority of executives believe that their sales reps miss opportunities because they can't keep up with this information.

At the other extreme, forcing mobile sales executives to wade through seemingly endless emails and data streams to extract the specific information that could really make a business difference - that the customer has just been placed on credit hold and new sales orders are suspended, for example, or that the next appointment of the day has just cancelled allowing more sales time opportunity with the current prospect - can create equal challenges.

It's not just sales and customer support personnel who benefit from an effective mobile data strategy. Imagine a remote inventory manager with the ability, when alerted in real time to the fact that a key supplier just failed to make delivery on a needed component, to trigger alternative sourcing strategies that would keep the production lines moving and avoid disruption of product delivery. Or the executive, when presented with real-time analysis of poor operating performance in a region, can reach across time zones from a mobile device to make an emergency conference call to implement corrective action. In fact, 63% of executives in a recent SAS/Economist survey said having the ability to rapidly process information is having a significant impact on their strategic decision making ability.

The key to all of the above scenarios is, again, having the right data at hand, delivered on the right device (which is most often defined as the device of choice of the mobile user) without forcing the user to do their own data mining. Accomplishing this requires a mobile strategy that:

  1. Accounts for an increasing volume of data input sources
  2. Provides the flexibility to alter application functionality based on user input
  3. Strikes the appropriate balance between user access and maintaining data security at the enterprise level
  4. Maintains a rapid mobile application development process

As you consider how the convergence of Big Data and mobile will impact you in the months ahead, here are five things that might help keep you on the right path as you develop and implement a longer-term strategy:

  1. Analyze the data streams - look at all potential sources of data to separate what data is being captured, what is stored and what is being constantly updated.
  2. Identify all internal business information needs - start by taking a classic BI approach of identifying what each business organization needs to improve decision-making and competitive advantage.
  3. Map the connection points to find data synergies - you most likely will be able to solve your organization's Big Data challenge in a single strategy but identifying overlapping needs can help establish priorities.
  4. Make this a long-term strategy with regular evaluation milestones - this will allow you to focus on what can be delivered in the near term without sacrificing longer term objectives and should improve the chances of your plan paying off in real value.
  5. Don't overlook the chance to leverage mobile workers as collection points. While getting the right information to remote workers should be a priority, the best strategies deploy a two-way approach that enables easy real-time updating of critical information from mobile users.

Big Data, like mobility, is not a trend or a passing fad; it's a fundamental element of 21st century business operations. Effectively organizing and delivering the results of that analysis to today's mobile management teams must have a place on every mobile and IT executive's priority list.

More Stories By George Mashini

George Mashini is CEO of Catavolt. He has helped establish Catavolt as a market innovator in the areas of hybrid cloud computing and mobile business applications by creating software that leverages existing systems along with new technology. He is focused on applying new techniques and technologies in innovative ways that bring business value to Catavolt’s customers.

In his previous leadership role at Paragon Software, George experienced all phases of enterprise software growth as part of the core management team. In 2005, he was part of a core team at Paragon that led the company to a successful exit for its investors via a sale to Infor Global Solutions. He has been in the enterprise software field for 13 years with experience in software development, project management, professional services organizations, product management and executive management.

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