Four tips to take you beyond the big data hype cycle

Using big data analytics in your business can save tens of millions of dollars — or open up new opportunities. But it’s early days, so here are suggestions that will help you avoid the “trough of disillusionment.”

As 2013 kicked off Gartner analyst Svetlana Sicular noted in her blog that big data is sliding down into the Trough of Disillusionment, a steep cliff in the Gartner Hype Cycle that follows the Peak of Inflated Expectations. (If you’re not familiar with the Gartner hype cycle, check out the illustration on Svetlana’s blog.)

In my experience with big data, there’s no reason for disillusionment. Big data analysis can create huge amounts of value. As with most worthwhile pursuits, it takes work to unlock that value. In the last three years, as a member of the CIO staff at Intel, I’ve spent a big chunk of my time developing business intelligence and analytics solutions that have resulted in tremendous cost and time savings and substantially improved time to market.Beyond my own personal anecdotes, Gartner’s most recent Hype Cycle report seems to agree that there is in fact substance behind the hype: if you can stick it out past knowledge gathering and initial investment to actual deployment, you’ll move beyond disillusionment and start seeing results. As a matter of fact, many organizations are already finding the value in Big Data and investing even more heavily in related projects for 2014.However, the report also notes that 2013 is the year of experimentation and early deployment, which is why many may not be singing the praises of big data initiatives just yet.

If you find yourself in this stage, there’s no reason to despair. Here are four tips for steering clear of the ‘trough of disillusionment’ and deriving value from your big data implementation.

Think even bigger.Think of a larger, more comprehensive model of business activity and figure out how you can populate it from as many data sources as possible. Then you can see the big picture. After you envision what infrastructure you need to support data at that scale, ask yourself if you could increase your data by a factor of 10 or more and still use the same infrastructure.

This is what Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) is doing on a big data project to speed up analysis of human genomic profiles, which could help with creating personalized treatments for cancer as well as supporting many other types of scientific breakthroughs. Calculating about a terabyte of data per patient, multiplied by potentially millions, OHSU and its technology partners are developing infrastructure to handle the massive amount of data involved in sequencing an individual’s human genome and noting changes over time. With breakthroughs in big data processing, the cost for such sequencing could come down to as low as $1,000 per person for this once-elite research, which means demand will skyrocket. And when demand skyrockets, so will the data.

Find relevant data for the business. Learn from line of business leaders what their challenges are, what’s important to them, and what they need to know to increase their business impact. Then search for data to see if you can help them solve their business problems. That’s exactly what happened with Intel’s internal big data initiatives. We were asked to help the sales team focus on which resellers to engage, when, and with what products. In 2012, the results of this project drove an estimated $20 million in new revenue and opportunities, with more expected in 2013.

Be flexible. We are in a phase of rapid innovation. It isn’t like implementing enterprise resource planning. From a technology standpoint, you must be fluid, flexible, and ready to move to a different solution if the need arises. For example, the database architecture built to collect “smart grid” energy data in Austin, Texas, withPecan Street Inc., a nonprofit group of universities, technology companies, and utility providers, is now on its third iteration.

As smart meters generate more and more detailed data, Pecan Street Inc. is finding new ways for consumers to reduce energy consumption as well as helping utilities better manage their grids. But Pecan Street had to be willing to keep changing its infrastructure to meet demand. The bottom line: If you think you know what tools you need to build big data solutions, a year from now it will look different. Be ready to adapt.

Connect the dots. At Intel, we realized there could be tremendous benefit in correlating design data with manufacturing data. A big part of our development cycle is “test, reengineer, test, reengineer.” There is value in speeding up that cycle. The analytics team began looking at the manufacturing data—from the specific units that were coming out of manufacturing—and tying it back to the design process.

In doing so, it became evident that standard testing processes could be streamlined without negatively impacting quality. We used predictive analytics to streamline the chip design validation and debug process by 25 percent and to compress processor test times. In making processor test times more efficient, we avoided $3 million in costs in 2012 on the testing of one line of Intel Core processors. Extending this solution into 2014 is expected to result in a reduced expenditure of $30 million.

We are only at the beginning of understanding how we can use big data for big gains. Far from being disillusioned with big data, we find many exciting possibilities as we look at large business problems holistically and see ways to help both the top line and the bottom line, all while helping our IT infrastructure run more efficiently and securely. It’s not easy to get started, but it is certainly well worth the time and effort.