By 2018 big data will be responsible for half of ethics violations in business – study

As analytics projects that utilise big data become more and more popular, the risk to businesses will grow exponentially. According to Gartner, they'll soon be the cause of as many as 50% of business ethics violations.

In a new report, the analyst firm warned against loss of reputation, limitations in business operations, losing out to competitors, wasted resources and even legal sanctions as some of the consequences of big data projects gone awry.

'Although big data and advanced analytics projects risk many of the same pitfalls as traditional projects, in most cases these risks are accentuated due to the volume and variety of data, or the sophistication of advanced analytics capabilities,' said Alexander Linden, research director at Gartner. 'Most pitfalls will not result in an obvious technical or analytic failure. Rather they will result in a failure to deliver business value.'

> See also: The pitfalls of data storytelling: why you can't always rely on a narrative in analytics

In light of this, the analyst firm set out five best practises that can reduce the likelihood of a big data failure:

Link analytics to business outcomes through benefits mapping

Analytics must enable a business decision maker to take action, and that action should have a measurable effect – whether the effect is directly or indirectly achieved.

Linking analytic outputs to traceable outcomes using a formal benefits-management and mapping process can help the analytics team navigate the complexities of the business environment, and keep analytic efforts both relevant and justifiable.

Invest in advanced analytics with caution

Many organisations believe that big data automatically requires advanced analytics. However, the data-crunching power required to manage the big data characteristics of volume, velocity and variety does not inherently require any more sophisticated algorithmic processing.

It is the complexity of the analytical question to be addressed that drives the need for advanced analytic tools, and in many cases desired outcomes can be achieved without resorting to more sophisticated analysis.

Balance analytic insight with the ability of the organisation to make use of the analysis

Because analytics can only be beneficial in organisations that are willing to embrace change, it makes sense to limit investment in analytics to a level that matches the organisation's ability to use the resulting insights.

Analytics may not be the most suitable approach in cases where pertinent data is absent, where there are high levels of ambiguity, there are entrenched opposing points of view, or in highly innovative or novel scenarios.

In these cases, scenario planning, options-based strategies, and critical thinking should also be incorporated into analytical approaches to better support the organisation's ability to take action.

Prioritise incremental improvements over business transformation

Using big data and advanced analytics to improve existing analyses, or to incrementally update and extend an existing business process, is easier than using them to deliver business transformation, because there are fewer dependencies to overcome to ensure success.

> See also: Big data: managing the legal and regulatory risks

Care should be taken to validate the level of overall change required. In some cases, deep reform of the business strategy may still be necessary – for instance, when a new disruptive vendor enters a market, when technology innovation changes the business model, or when an organisation has become dysfunctional.

Consider alternative approaches to reaching the same goal

Few objectives can only be achieved in one way. Statistical modelling, data mining and machine learning algorithms all provide means of testing ideas and refining solution propositions.

Big data and advanced analytics help validate proposed hypotheses and open an even wider range of potential approaches to addressing corporate priorities. Not all problems even require a fully engineered analytical solution. Investment may be better targeted on human factors, re-education or reframing the problem.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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