All the cool companies are doing big data

A survey from Dell says that growth companies are turning to big data in droves

All the cool companies are doing big data
jimmywayne via Flickr

It’s study and survey season. I’ve talked about Gartner’s out-of-step Hadoop survey, atScale’s nicely biased but frankly better survey, and the Spark survey by Databricks that showed its customers believe its marketing. Now, Dell has released a survey that ties a lot of those messages into a neat little bow. (Except for the anti-Hadoop message from Gartner -- have I mentioned it's consistently wrong about big data?)

Why should you pay attention to the Dell survey? First, methodology matters. The Gartner study surveyed fewer than 200 CIOs, all Gartner customers. The atScale study was biased toward Hadoop customers, and the Spark survey hit a very select group of supporters.The difference: Dell engaged an outside firm that delivered a larger sample size.

The survey targeted the midmarket and above (companies with 5,000-plus employees) and talked to 2,900 IT and business decision makers. Most important, Dell didn't give the outside analysts its customer list; the firm found the respondents on its own.

The survey found the companies that had adopted big data were growing 50 percent faster than those that weren’t. You should certainly take this with a grain of salt; correlation isn’t causation. Companies that are growing are more likely to spend on big data initiatives. But even this proves what atScale observed: Companies achieving value from big data are the ones using it for growth or scale.

In fact, Dell found that 41 percent of the companies that have adopted big data technologies are using it to target their marketing efforts, 37 percent are optimizing their marketing, and another 37 are optimizing their social media marketing.

The study also shows 39 percent of the organizations that have not yet deployed big data are not sure of the benefits. (No surprise there -- they must be Gartner customers.) Meanwhile, in North America, 73 percent of companies believe that big data can be analyzed and 69 percent believe they’re starting to do exactly that.

Another, less rosy data point: Risk-based decision-making derived from data and analysis remains stuck at around 30 percent around the globe. The executive decision based on gut feeling reigns instead, a conclusion borne out by a recent paper authored by social scientists. In North America, improvements are coming at a faster clip, with 44 percent of respondents looking at risk-based decision-making as opposed to only 29 percent last year.

Every study has shown that executive support (not sponsorship alone) is critical to the success or failure of big data projects. The Dell study shows that the proportion of business decision makers designated as the leader of big data initiatives (as opposed to IT leaders) has reached 18 percent.

Business leadership is critical in order to take full advantage of and derive value from big data. The move to data-driven, risk-based decision-making is ongoing and accelerating, particularly in North America. But we have a long way to go.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.