Microsoft has kicked off a week of big data news with the results of a survey showing that more than 75 percent of midsize to large businesses are implementing big data-related solutions within the next 12 months.
Of those solutions, customer care, marketing and sales departments are increasingly driving demand, according to the new Microsoft research. Microsoft surveyed more than 280 U.S. IT decision makers at midsized to large organizations on the topic of big data and uncovered several key trends as companies grapple with big data and start to use it to gain a competitive advantage. The explosion of devices, apps, the cloud and the Internet has ushered in the era of big data.
According to Microsoft's "Global Enterprise Big Data Trends: 2013" study, 17 percent of customers surveyed said they are in the early stages of researching big data solutions, while 13 percent have fully deployed them; nearly 90 percent of customers surveyed said they have a dedicated budget for addressing big data.
Nearly half the customers (49 percent) surveyed reported that growth in the volume of data is the greatest challenge driving big data solution adoption, followed by having to integrate disparate business intelligence tools (41 percent) and having tools able to glean the insight (40 percent).
And although the IT department (52 percent) is currently driving most of the demand for big data, customer care (41 percent), sales (26 percent), finance (23 percent) and marketing (23 percent) departments are increasingly driving demand, according to the survey.
"Big data can be large tables of structured data, huge files of complex unstructured data or small amounts of machine-generated data that pile up faster than you can make sense of it," Eron Kelly, general manager of SQL Server at Microsoft, said in a statement. "Microsoft's goal is to help everyone make better, faster decisions by providing tools that make it easy to find insights in big data, small data … any data."
Big data is changing the way organizations and people do business, discover insights and interact with one another, Microsoft said. Microsoft's "Big Data Week" is a week of promotion of big data initiatives the software giant is working on with customers, partners and the industry.
"Big data absolutely has the potential to change the way governments, organizations, and academic institutions conduct business and make discoveries, and it's likely to change how everyone lives their day-to-day lives," Susan Hauser, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Enterprise and Partner Group, said in a statement.
The world now has twice as much data as there are liters in the ocean, Hauser said. By learning to surf this wave of big data, it is possible to replace hunches with insight, spot trends before they pass by quickly and take action while others are still deliberating. Big data is the term increasingly used to describe the process of applying serious computing power—the latest in machine learning and artificial intelligence—to massive and often highly complex sets of information.
"Our daily lives generate an enormous collection of data," Dan Vesset, program vice president of IDC's business analytics research, said in a statement. "The benefit of the data depends on where and to whom you're talking to. A lot of the ultimate potential is in the ability to discover potential connections, and to predict potential outcomes in a way that wasn't really possible before. Before, you only looked at these things in hindsight."
Dave Campbell, a technical fellow at Microsoft, said housing vast stores of data is now more affordable than ever. Three decades ago, a terabyte of data storage could cost millions; today, it's about $30 at Office Depot, Campbell said.
"It's a tipping point," he said. "There's no reason to throw anything away any more. We are at an amazing inflection in which so much is already born digital today, even inherently analog data, such as voice mail and photographs."
Microsoft's Kelly explained, "In the next five years, we'll generate more data as humankind than we generated in the previous 5,000 years."
Yet although big data can be seen as a big problem, it also is an incredible opportunity, Kelly said. "What we're providing is the tool that allows you to scoop the water out of the ocean, pour it into a filter and make it drinkable rather than having to do on your own each of those potable steps you vaguely remember from high school chemistry."
The challenges of big data include managing its size, as well as storing it, searching it, analyzing it and more. That's where database and business intelligence tools such as Microsoft SQL Server, Windows Server, PowerPivot, Microsoft Office and SharePoint come in handy, Hauser said.