Big data and the channel: go big or go home

As catchphrases go, the concept of “big data” is even more amorphous than cloud computing or service-oriented architecture, in part because our idea of what constitutes “big” is constantly changing. Nevertheless, the rise of open source database platform Hadoop, the public sector movement to release large sets of information as part of “open data” policies and the overall proliferation of Internet-connected devices have led to discussion about how big data can and should be handled.

It’s just not a conversation that seems to involve the channel very often. For the large vendors, big data might seem like the kind of challenge best handled by a direct sales force, given many of the related products and services are aimed at the largest enterprises and come with a hefty price tag. However as we move into 2012 I suspect we will begin to see big data solutions scale to all kinds of organizations. If you’re a mid-sized retailer, for instance, you probably have enough transaction history to constitute “big data,” if by that we mean it’s hard to capture, store, retrieve or derive meaningful insights from it.

That’s the thing: the term “big data” is most often invoked when the information isn’t being used very well. Once you solve your big data problems, it just becomes data again.

If you’re new to this market, the seminal research report was published by consulting firm McKinsey and Co. and MGI in May. The following quote explains why this will be a hot market for Canadian companies, and therefore for their channel providers as well:

“First, big data can unlock significant value by making information transparent and usable at much higher frequency. Second, as organizations create and store more transactional data in digital form, they can collect more accurate and detailed performance information on everything from product inventories to sick days, and therefore expose variability and boost performance . . . Third, big data allows ever-narrower segmentation of customers and therefore much more precisely tailored products or services. Fourth, sophisticated analytics can substantially improve decision making. Finally, big data can be used to improve the development of the next generation of products and services.”

This doesn’t mean all VARs need to start selling Hadoop. It means they have to think more strategically about the kinds of problems their customers are trying to solve and identifying the big data bottlenecks that are impeding their progress. It’s more than simply installing something that can crunch the numbers.

It’s about developing the policies that govern access to data, restructuring workflows to make data flow more logically through an organization, and ensuring privacy and security mechanisms are in place.

These are all critical areas where the channel can provide guidance and value to clients. And not just their biggest clients, but every client. Don’t overlook this opportunity. Think big.

Follow Shane Schick on Twitter: @shaneschick.

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