By Kate Lewis, Head of Enterprise Sales, NCC Group

Big Data: What is it and why is it so important?

It seems not a day goes by without the term ‘Big Data’ cropping up, whether in a business meeting or in newspaper.

But what exactly is big data?

Big data is a collection of large volumes of information from many sources which is constantly pooled and stored in a central location. The data that is stored can range from public Wi-Fi information to customer usage on energy consumption.

The most important thing to remember is that data is being collected all the time, it is getting bigger and the ways in which it can be used are getting bolder.

And as data gets bigger and bolder, so do the responsibilities of the custodians of the data along with the complexities this brings.

According to research from IBM, we create around 2.5 Quintillion bytes, or 2.5 Exabytes, of data each day. Furthermore, 90% of the data in the world has been created in the last two years alone.

Benefits of big data to businesses

Big data has many significant business benefits, although this varies and depends on the objectives of an organisation. However, like most things, big data is not without risks.

If you don’t secure your big data the impacts can be devastating on the brand and the bottom line. This is particularly pertinent when working within the consumer data landscape.

In the eyes of the customer, there are broadly two trains of thought on the subject. One is that big data drives value for the individual by tailoring their engagement with a brand to their needs, making the customer’s journey a more enjoyable one.

And the second train of thought is that it’s a bit big brother-esque and could exploit individuals, opening up risks to their identity whether directly or indirectly.

Even if someone is of the former opinion, it’s not difficult to understand why people are sceptical when the headlines are scattered with data breaches galore and the amount of data available for organisations to consume is mind boggling.

Questions understandably arise. What personal data is being collected? How is it being used and how it is being protected?

While many organisations are moving from exploration to exploitation of big data, consumers and businesses alike need to be certain that it is positive exploitation.

We live in a fickle consumer society where, more and more often, organisations operate at arm’s length with little or no true connections to their customers and it results in a complex terrain to navigate.

So, the real challenge for businesses operating in this environment is how to use big data to create strong connections, to build and maintain trust with their customers and operate with tangible integrity, all at arm’s length.

Maintaining existing customers is also vital for the majority of businesses, especially when you consider a recent survey by Chase Paymentech which found that 60% of UK merchants said that existing customers spend at least twice as much as new shoppers.

All of the above challenges do sound pretty daunting, but by understanding and facing these responsibilities and integrating them into organisations’ big data strategy, additional brand value can be created, customer retention improved and loyalty cemented, while also exploiting the other benefits big data can provide. When implemented properly, this is where big data has its greatest value.

So, how can an organisation provide assurance, take ownership of its responsibilities and safely reap the benefits from big data?

Assuring the customer experience

Always put the customer first. Ensure that value is added to their journey and experience and value will then be added to the organisation by return.

Spend time in the analysis and testing phases on data integrity and quality, get the matching selection and processing engines right, test them and test them again and again.

There’s nothing more infuriating to a customer than when the wrong assumptions are presented. If you lose a customer it’s hard to win them back.

Ensure that live data collection and analytics processes are not introduced at the expense of other elements such as performance.

Remember attention spans are low in a digital world. Make sure data is signposted, permissions are sought and above all it is secure and protected.

Make intentions clear to customers throughout their experience to build additional trust. Make sure that your security and privacy policies and measures stand up to the test and are fit for purpose. Avoid damaging the experience with negative headlines and use the positives to drive benefits instead.

Assuring against the risk

Firstly, understand the risks associated with the full project lifecycle, from capturing user requirements, assessing the infrastructure and security, to selecting the right data analytics platform.

Put measures in place to monitor whether the big data project is delivering return on investment, starting with setting the right objectives in the first place.

Understand compliance obligations when dealing with large amounts of data. What can be collected, what can be used, what cannot?

What are the minimum risk mitigation requirements? What should be in place to manage and reduce the risk of security breaches?

What are the financial penalties for data loss and breach? Be prepared to respond to perceived threats and if enacted, understand the impact to the customer and the business.

Once there, don’t stop at your own business, assess the risk of the suppliers that work with you. A number of recent high profile data breaches originated with suppliers but the impact lies with the customer organisation, so why take the risk?

According to a recent report by Kaspersky Lab and B2B International, cyber attacks cost large businesses an average of $720,000 (£446,000), while small to medium-sized enterprises stand to lose around $49,000 (£30,000) in a targeted attack.

Assuring trust

Trust will naturally be generated when focus is placed on creating a great customer experience.

However, it’s important to be prepared and assess any potential impact on the privacy of customers.

Organisations should always be prepared for a breach because nowadays it is a case of when and not if. Businesses need to have robust plans in place so that they can respond to a potential data breach or loss.

There should also be a process for managing breaches and for communicating this internally and externally.

According to the 2014 Information Security Breaches Report by the Department for Business, Innovation & skills, 81% of large organisations had a security breach during the last 12 months.

The survey also revealed 60% of small businesses had a security breach, while 59% of respondents expect there will be more security incidents in the next year than last.

Another way to assure trust is to look at creating digital, arm’s length engagements with customers to enable collaboration and communication. Create a trusted community where customers can feel safe when working with an organisation and repeatedly review and assess the landscape against ever changing threats.


Above all, when organisations are the custodians of such precious information about their customers, they must repeatedly challenge the status quo.

This cannot be a box ticking exercise; it’s an ever evolving landscape and needs to be managed as such.

Remember, as data gets bigger, bolder and more valuable, so do the responsibilities of the custodians of the data and so do the potential risks that come with it.

Big data is big responsibility; however, with the right assurance the rewards can be much bigger.