Tech & Communications

Big Data in Qatar: More challenges ahead

by  — 14 November 2013

Companies in Qatar employing Big Data practices are seeing a significant impact on their businesses, according to a recent EMC survey of local businesses. However, Big Data still has numerous challenges to overcome.

Organisations in Qatar are making use of the vast amount of information that is being created daily within companies to help drive insight into how they can better business functions. Among those organisations surveyed in Qatar, 44 percent said that they had achieved a competitive advantage as a result of Big Data analytics, and 85 percent noted that decision making within their organisation could be improved with the better use of data.

Samer Diya, country manager of EMC in Qatar said at a recent press conference, “Not only are senior management executives beginning to engage with the idea of Big Data analytics, but many businesses are aware of the huge competitive advantages the technology brings.”

However, Big Data adoption is not without its challenges, Patricia Florissi, vice president and global chief technology officer for EMC Sales, told The Edge that companies are being very selective at present about how and where they deploy Big Data within their business. “In a couple of years from now, we are going to have an issue of how to bring those Big Data infrastructure architectures together and correlate the data across the Big Data silos,” she explained.

Companies are not yet convinced about the usefulness of Big Data to their business as a whole, and rather than stalling projects today to try and think long-term, businesses are more interested in seeing short-term results, leaving integration as a problem to be solved in the future, furthered Florissi. According to her, some firms are not even aware of how many Big Data efforts they have across the company.

Globally, marketing people are the most active in using Big Data.

Big Data is still a relatively new concept in business and many are struggling to understand how exactly it applies to their business unit or a particular scenario.

In fact, understanding of the technology was the second most popular reason for not deploying Big Data technology, according to the EMC survey. The most popular reason was return on investment (ROI). “People are still trying to figure out how they can use the technology, 10 years from now, it won’t be a question,” said Florissi. In Qatar, the biggest priority driving IT adoption is to gain operational efficiency, “and Big Data is trying to help them reduce costs, and improve the quality of service,” she added.

Globally, marketing people are the most active in using Big Data to understand information that is coming from social media in order to gain higher levels of customer intimacy. Enhancing customer experiences was ranked by local businesses as the third largest priority driving IT adoption in the country. To capitalise on these potential opportunities, however, organisations face another challenge, the recruitment of competent staff. 

Last year, IBM reported that there were 300,000 job openings for data scientists in the United States alone. Data scientists require a blend of computer science, mathematics, statistics, an understanding of the business and sometimes an element of art, because the best way to interpret Big Data is through creative visualisation techniques, explained Florissi. She, however, added that it was normal to see a lag between the introduction of a new technology and reaching a critical mass of professionals in the field. It was not until the late 1990s that a dotcom bubble appeared, even though the technology first arrived in the market a decade earlier.

SMEs and Big Data

Before the arrival of Big Data, there was Business Intelligence and only large companies would have the amount of data required to do meaningful analysis. 

Today, a small company has access to the cloud. They do not have any upfront capital investment from an infrastructure perspective, and data is widely available, explained Florissi. In fact, small firms can also view their data in context of what is taking place in their industry, the local market or their competition. “Big Data together with the cloud, mobile technologies and social media has level set the ROI on technology and Big Data for small and big companies,” she added.

Two decades ago, it would require in-house experts and analysts for a company to calculate growth, interpolate data and create graph analytics. Today, these are functions of a basic spreadsheet client such as Microsoft Excel. “We do not have the equivalent of a spreadsheet built with functions for Big Data analytics that will benefit small companies in particular industries immediately. But there is no reason why we cannot have a service where the functions that are embedded have more of an element of Big Data analytics, predictive analytics, and so on, that I can get from small companies and provide the results.” 

Overall, businesses in Qatar are positive about its prospects despite the numerous challenges, with 77 percent of those surveyed saying that technology investment would help them reach
their goals.

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