Building a big data practice

For IT solution providers, there’s big money in big data and that’s because data volumes are growing at staggering rates and SMBs are discovering use cases for big data. Perhaps even better for the channel, many SMBs don’t have the skills needed to carry out big data projects.

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Building a big data practice
By  Piers Ford Published  April 26, 2015

Big data is the buzz phrase that won’t go away – and for good reason. Data volumes are growing at rates that defy comprehension, and businesses of every size are bombarded with alarm calls that unless they get a grip of their own data pools, they will lose track of knowledge and information that holds the key to competitive edge in the 21st century.

For IT solution providers, the opportunity to develop new revenue streams from systems and consultancy that will help customers to harness the power of big data could hardly be clearer. In the Middle East, however, there is still a sense that they are poised on the brink of the action rather than grabbing the market with both hands. So what should they be doing to establish and build big data practices that will attract attention in what is rapidly becoming one of the most dynamic IT sectors in the region?

Look at the statistics for a start. According to Jonas Zelba, senior research analyst information and communication technologies practice at Frost & Sullivan, the GCC big data and analytics market is worth $230.6m in 2015.

“The regional market is expected to outpace the global market growth rate and grow at a CAGR of 24.7% during the forecast period and reach $635.5m by 2020,” he said. “Nearly 78% of GCCs revenues are generated from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The KSA and Qatar are projected to experience the fastest growth rates out of the entire GCC.”

Another analyst, Megha Kumar, senior research manager, IDC Middle East, Turkey and Africa, agreed that demand will grow, but said it will remain opportunistic rather than structured for the time being.

“Larger organisations will be keen to adopt it but it might be a bit more ad hoc than process driven in 2015,” she said. “Pilot projects have taken place in the Middle East and vendors need to position success stories to potential customers to highlight the ‘value’ that can be experienced with big data. As ICT markets mature, the uptake will be much higher but a lot of work needs to be done around building market awareness on what the technology can do for the customer.”

To that end, solution providers should be developing granular knowledge of the big data needs of specific industries, as well as the technology itself.

“The success of big data implementations will lie in understanding how that industry works and what kind of data/ KPIs are critical for that industry. Technical expertise is a given since integration, customisation and user guidance will be critical for its success,” said Kumar. “Solution providers should be able to address data quality, validity and security.”

An understanding of the type of big data that will enhance a customer’s competitive edge will also be essential. Hitachi Data Systems breaks it down into five utilisation categories: human/social big data, machine big data, location big data, market big data and smart infrastructure big data.

According to Aaron White, general manager of Hitachi Data Systems Middle East, Turkey and Pakistan, there are a number of challenges for solutions providers to address – not least having the right trained, certified and experienced staff to understand customers’ technical and business objectives across the organisation. They also need to gather enough information about the size and scope of the addressable market, in order to meet the sheer range of demands.

“Another key challenge for the solution provider is to partner with organisations that can provide them with all or most of solutions such as having a standardised, singular platform for all data, hosting, analytics and insight,” said White.

“We advocate and practise ‘business defined IT’.  Solution providers should understand the business issues and objectives before plugging the technology. Our approach is focused on defining those pain points and providing the right infrastructure. It is easy for organisations to get pushed into creating small commodity clusters.

“Our solutions can help organisations remove silos without a rip and replace while still managing a hybrid infrastructure through one management console. This is where solution partners play a role in helping these organisations steer away from solutions that won’t be beneficial for them and would result in inefficient and costly management.”

At Software AG, Rami Kichli, vice president UAE region, said that big data creates an opportunity to reinvent the relationship between solution providers and their customers, based on co-innovation.

“Vendors and solution providers who have the technology and capacity to understand the complexity that lies beneath the issues and help customers solve their most difficult problems shall emerge as the front runners of this technology wave,” he said.

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