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“Big Data” Presents Big Opportunities for Firms and CFOs

Big data 1950s computerIt is difficult to ignore the tremendous growth in information technology that has been occurring over the last few years and how it is transforming business. Technology is enabling data to be captured at a volume and prevalence never imagined. Among social media sites, websites, smartphones, customer profiles and purchase information, it seems that just about every part of our business or personal lives provides information about ourselves that someone is collecting. But where does it all go? What happens to it? How can you turn this data into something meaningful, and more importantly, profitable?  

Information like this is called “Big Data” and Big Data has been a high-profile topic in business media and even the mainstream press. It refers to data sets that grow so large that they are nearly impossible to work with using traditional database management tools, but yet offer a powerful tool when married with strategic use. Big Data has been called “The next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity.”

According to IBM, every day we create 2.5 quintillion (that’s 2,500,000,000,000,000,000) bytes of data. In fact, 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last two years. This data comes from everywhere – purchase transaction records, Tweets or status updates, digital photos from your honeymoon or the GPS signal on your phone that helps you locate the nearest flower shop. Consider this: When the Sloan Digital Sky Survey began collecting data in 2000, it collected more in the first few weeks than all data collected in the entire history of astronomy.

With such massive quantities of data pouring in, businesses need professionals to manage it. After all, the company or firm that can interpret these large data sets can identify trends that will improve marketing efficiency, identify potential clients or determine what new resources are needed to expand services into a new market.

A report released last year by the McKinsey Global Institute projected that the United States needs 140,000 to 190,000 more workers with what they called “deep analytical” expertise. Additionally, another 1.5 million data-literate managers, whether retrained or hired, will be needed. 

CFOs who focus on training staff to use information to drive better decision-making are those whose companies or firms will be at the forefront of change, and therefore hold a distinct competitive advantage. Success will belong to those able to combine smart processes with analytic talent.

Big Data has increased the demand for information management specialists, while dramatically increasing the potential for visionary professional growth and positioning. CPAs are perfectly suited to take a leadership role in deciphering and using Big Data to achieve strategic business goals. An article in CGMA Magazine recently covered Big Data and the steps companies should take to capitalize on its potential. You may also want to download this report, Improving Business Decision Making in Organisations: Unlocking Business Intelligence.

Have you been watching this business trend, and what impact do you think Big Data can have on your business/firm?

Barry C. Melancon, CPA, President and CEO, American Institute of CPAs.

1950s computer image via Shutterstock.

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