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March 10, 2017updated 14 Mar 2017 11:02am

Where to start with big data

By John Oates

Taking the first steps with any new technology is daunting. But the secret is usually to start small.

For a big data project you do need to know a bit about databases, or find someone on your team, or a partner, who does.

There are some great resources online – and even apps – which can help you get started.

Secondly you need to think about what data your business is already collecting. Most businesses are not making best use of information they already hold. Consider this resource before thinking about spending money on collecting more information.

With changing data protection and privacy laws it is worth considering the legal aspects of any project at a very early stage. There is no point investing time, money and resources into a project which will have the plug pulled by compliance before it goes live.

The difficulty is that big data projects evolve and change during implementation. If you already knew the answer you wouldn’t need to crunch the numbers so you need to stay aware of the legislation all the way through.

Because a good project will involve changing goal posts the ideal big data project starts small.

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Look at a small, time-limited dataset and ask some simple questions.

Running such a small pilot project will tell you several important things.

It will teach you about the available analytical tools and what they can do.

It will show you how ‘clean’ the data is and how useful it could be as a possible resource.

Assuming you don’t have the skills internally use a partner or other experts to look at the data you have.

A decent pilot project should also demonstrate potential benefits to other stakeholders in the business.

A successful big data project is not one which is run by the IT department. It needs to be owned by a business department and become a real tool for their day-to-day running of the business as well as informing future strategy.

A pilot will also give an idea of the likely costs and difficulties of running a full-scale, real-time project.

Remember even as the project grows it doesn’t have to create a massive management headache.

Provided you have a clear idea, thanks to your pilot project, of exactly what you are trying to achieve and how you’re going to achieve it.

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