This was the year of big data. In the last two to three years we have accumulated more data than ever before. This provides both a challenge and an opportunity for companies, and the ones who get it right fastest are going to lead the pack.
There are three trends related to this growth in big data – both contributing to the growth but also providing part of the solution to managing such large datasets in a meaningful way.
The last year has seen the rise in mobile computing devices such as smartphones and tablets changing the way that data is generated and collected, but also profoundly transforming how companies can access their data. Previously people had to be behind their PCs to get up-to-date accurate information to base decisions on, and too often meetings were spent debating what the data would look like rather than making decisions then and there in order to move forward.
Today, however, employees are able to access real-time data wherever they are via tablets and smartphones. This dramatically reduces decision cycles and allows companies to be increasingly agile and able to make key business decisions on the go. More and more companies are requesting mobile access from their business intelligence suppliers, and the companies who miss the boat are going to be left behind.
2. Social media
2010 was the year that social media was personal. It was between you and your friends, and businesses struggled to work out how to leverage the vast quantity of customer information that was being produced. This year however, business intelligence tools have extended into the social space, Facebook specifically, allowing companies to interrogate and analyse the customer data amassed in their social fan bases.
Within in the confines of Facebook’s terms and conditions, companies can now drill down into softer issues of their fan bases’ preferences, allowing them to develop a far deeper insight into their customers than ever before.
Consider that a company such as Coke has in excess of 34 million fans on its Facebook page – the amount of data the company can tap into is immense. This information can be used as the basis of personal and highly targeted marketing campaigns, or manufacturing and supply chain planning, amongst other things.
3. The cloud
Business Intelligence, like so many other sectors, has been revolutionised by the ability cloud computing gives us to quickly and easily turn services on and off. Now companies can dramatically reduce their data processing times by deploying additional server capacity at busy times. This gives them up-to-date information faster, allowing quicker decision making and a competitive edge. Because the companies only deploy the cloud-based capacity when they need it, they don’t have the unnecessary expense of servers sitting idle.
Specifically in Africa cloud computing gives companies access to the latest technology and services not available locally and without the same overheads. This undeniably will result in the acceleration of businesses in locations that traditionally have not had the same technology infrastructure and services as the developed world.
All in all, the business intelligence sector has not been unaffected by the massive technological advances happening around us in 2011. In the information age, the companies that have the best access to and control over the information at their disposal are the companies that are going to gain a competitive edge.
 Sources: The Diverse and Exploding Digital Universe – IDC, March 2008, School of Information Management and Systems, University of California at Berkeley, Cisco Visual Networking Index – Forecast and Methodology, 2007-2012
Mark Bannerman is country manager of MicroStrategy.