By Rob Symes, CEO and Co-Founder of The Outside View

2014 has well and truly proven itself as the year for technology and business.

Phrases like ‘Big Data’ and ‘The Internet of Things’ are being squeezed into every (wannabe) intellectual corporate conversation spoken with competitive counterparts. Undeniably there has been a paradigm shift towards a universal recognition of how vital the incorporation of technology is key to a businesses’ survival. But, for the most part, these conversations assume a ‘fake it until you make it’ undertone.

Unfortunately, only a handful of industries really understand both the implications of technological innovation for businesses or how to begin implementing it.

From the corporate cronies to more specialist SMEs everyone wants a slice of the action, but before companies go diving in guns blazing, tearing up their infrastructures and giving their CIO’s the chop in order to uncover their rich oil reserves of data, there are 3 things that need to be done; stop, look and listen.

As CEO of a predictive analytics start-up, I am engulfed by the buzz of technological innovation that lines the streets around Silicon Roundabout. It is a very exciting time and because of this shifting mind-set, business is going well. But for those on the receiving end, anxiety and fear ever-increasingly consumes companies because you can talk the talk but if you can’t walk the walk, you’re pretty screwed. Especially because of the potential it carries for providing a real competitive edge.

Beyond serving as an irresistibly compelling topic for conferences, blog posts and media spreads, Big Data is on its way to becoming a key differentiator for businesses in almost every industry, reshaping their strategy by enabling them to innovate and identify new opportunities, and make more accurate and quicker decisions.

Even those who think they comprehend Big Data may be intimidated by its potential power. As well they should be, perhaps. In the business realm, it’s being hailed as a tool as transformative as, say, electricity or antibiotics.

How can technology, and more specifically big data, impact upon your business?

When it comes to Big Data, its’ about finding out patterns and information in your data that you didn’t know existed. But this does not always happen instantaneously, so testing and experimenting with your data sets is key. Big Data has the potential to enable innovative business models that don’t exist right now, and things that we can’t imagine at the moment.

Across all industries, unlocking data will not only help determine a company’s competitive position, but will also be used to improve overall performance. And whilst there have already been some early adopters of big data and analytics intelligence (finance and IT), this trend will eventually infiltrate every industry. Harnessing internal data to derive insight will become second nature to the business process.

Transparency, for instance, can drive efficiencies within operations, where supply-chain managers will gain better access to more of the data they need, both within their own walls and inside those of their partners populating the supply chain. Data, which exposes disparities in, say, the efficiency of different call centres can drive better performance from those who aren’t content to dwell in the bottom quartile.

The ability to consult real-time results enables companies to engage in active experimentation, making better management decisions about, for example, what drives web page conversion rates. Furthermore, customers can be divided into micro-segments, receiving real-time offers based on their current location.

What the Pitfalls to avoid?

Like I said before. Stop; step back and really consider what it is you want to find, only when you have a question in mind should you…Look at every piece of data you have. Big data is only “big” because we are now able to analyse lots of unstructured data sets, which can paint a far brighter picture. Finally, Listen. Listening to what your data isn’t saying is absolutely imperative, even if it produces an answer that you are not happy with. Computers think at the speed of light, so just because you are unable to see it’s thought process, there is a need to trust in the results it produces. There is a reason it got to that conclusion.

And while it’s true that Big Data analytics can help companies reduce costs, speed up time-to-market, boost productivity and increase profits, huge datasets alone don’t guarantee value. It’s easy to get captivated with all of the emerging technologies surrounding it. But, every industry is different, and every company within an industry is different. A one-size-fits-all mentality cannot be applied when tacking the big data terrain, so don’t let the quantity of the data become a distraction.

In essence, the best leaders will be the ones with the best questions, and who actively encourage interaction between the data analysts and the rest of the business.