The investments that many companies are making in managing 'big data' are paying off, according to a global survey of business executives and IT leaders, conducted by business technology firm Avanade. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

The survey found that 84% of respondents believe that big data helps them make better business decisions, and that 73% of companies have already used their data to increase revenue. For the most part, these increases were achieved by growing existing revenue streams (57%) and creating entirely new sources of revenue (43%).

Beyond tangible business value, the survey suggests that big data has become pervasive: more employees in businesses have greater access to increased technology options for managing and analysing data. More than half of the companies surveyed (57%) said that, in the previous 12 months, more technology options had become available to help analyse and manage their data.

Perhaps more significantly, companies are now investing in these technologies, with most companies surveyed (91%) reporting the use of such tools to manage and analyse data.

"Big data has gained a top spot on the agenda of business leaders for the real value it has begun to create," said Tyson Hartman, Avanade's chief technology officer. "Today, the technologies and skills used to leverage big data for business purposes have reached a tipping point: new types of data supported by better tools to leverage it enable companies to find financial and competitive benefits from their data."

Big data has moved beyond the confines of the IT function as well, with 95% of businesses not considering data analysts to be specifically part of their IT team. Instead, companies are now distributing that expertise to line-of-business groups throughout the company. Some 58% reported that data management is now embedded throughout their business as a dedicated function. And 59% reported that more employees than ever before are involved in making decisions as a result of more widely available company data.

However, as with many major technology trends, the benefits of big data come with signficant challenges, as 85% of respondents reported obstacles in managing and analysing data, including being overwhelmed by sheer volume, data security concerns, and not having enough dedicated staff to analyse the data. Nearly two thirds of stakeholders (63%) also feel their company needs to develop new skills to turn data into business insights.

The survey also found that three current trends (employee mobility, cloud computing, and social networking) are making the data deluge more challenging. Most respondents reported that employee mobility (73%), cloud computing (65%) and social networking (61%) are all causing their company to rethink its data management strategy.

"The challenges of big data remain, but the opportunities are even greater. Business leaders are moving from defense to offense in their data management strategies. Forward-looking companies are empowering more people across the enterprise with the tools and skills needed to make better business decisions and, ultimately, harness the power that big data promises," concluded Hartman.