Has your company, in the course of doing something else entirely, amassed a cache of valuable data? If so, what should you do with it? Use it to understand your customer base more deeply? Meld it with broader databases to assess the risk of deadbeat buyers? Mine it to unearth the gold of a new product launch? Or package it for sale in the Big Data arena?

14Jun_SR Tech Image big data spendingUrged on by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, companies in industries ranging from health care to breweries are looking into ways to turn their caches of information into money-saving or money-making assets. Yet many companies are still at sea regarding the scope of their projects.

CFO’s Tech Spending Spotlight​​ Report  includes stories that suggest what CFOs should be focusing on as they try to get their arms around the question of how their companies can tap into the Big Data wave. In particular, the report covers Big Data’s use in marketing​ and sales; how companies can identify a need for it; how and when to make a business out of it; and the risks associated with centralizing data.

Indeed, one of the biggest risks in budgeting for Big Data projects is scope creep, the report’s lead story cautions. For example, when CFOs decide whether to approve spending for a proposed effort, it is critical to make sure the company isn’t trying to “model the ocean,” says Phani Nagarjuna, chief executive and founder of Nuevora, a Big Data analytics and applications firm.

Finance chiefs should avoid proposals like “we have all this data, and we want to analyze the flow of that data and see what is it that we learn.” Cautioning CFOs to keep their companies from “just getting into an analysis exercise for the sake of analysis,” Nagarjuna advises that “if they have to invest a single dollar into a Big Data initiative, they have to have a goal.”

The report features a case study of one company that has set such clear objectives. For Merchant Cash and Capital of New York, an alternative financing company for small merchants, the initial goals for its first Big Data project were pretty straightforward, recounts its CFO, Jeffrey Beckwith: lower the company’s underwriting cost per deal and improve the underwriting decisions.

Still, some companies will have the more ambitious goal of actually breaking into the Big Data market. Another story in the report​ takes​ a close look at Explorys, a Big Data spinoff of the Cleveland Clinic​​.​ The firm has its origins in a search tool created for the clinic by its former CIO, who now fills that role at the spinoff. The tool succeeded in making medical research at the hospital faster, speeding up queries by almost exponential amounts. The new firm made the tool the linchpin of a business that has amassed 226 billion data facts and serves 19 large health-care organizations.

Finally, the big picture of Big Data must be taken into account. As Big Data grows bigger, more complicated, and more difficult to deal with, the choice of which data get retained and which discarded becomes pivotal. And companies both large and small will have to sort it out.

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