08/28/2012 04:17 EDT | Updated 10/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Is Big Data Really Such a Big Deal?

I haven't been able to pick up a paper or surf online recently without getting bombarded with news, research or expert opinions featuring Big Data and its value to the future of business.

Earlier this year the Obama administration announced a $200 million investment to "extract knowledge and insights from large and complex collections of digital data." Science and technology policy director Tom Kalil said the White House wants to "challenge industry, research universities, and non-profits to join with the administration to make the most of opportunities created by big data." He added that that President Obama calls Big Data an "all hands on deck effort."

Other headlines and surveys were screaming the value business has realized already from Big Data initiatives including this Avanade survey of 550 global executives which said "73% of companies have already used data to increase revenue by growing existing revenue streams (57%) or creating entirely new sources of revenue (43%)".

Findings from McKinsey's "Minding your digital business" global survey highlighted three key trends in business including Big Data, Social Media and new delivery platforms such as cloud and mobility. The survey results said: "...executives expect that new digital technologies will transform their business."

While the McKinsey survey is a much larger sampling of executives, I found it interesting that the results pointed to similar priorities identified in a mini survey of executives I did at the start of the year.

Here are some quick highlights from McKinsey:

• 26% rank big data/analytics as a top or top 3 priority corporate wide & another 26% say it's a priority for 1-2 business units

• 49% are focusing big data efforts on customer insights, segmentation and improving performance

• 60% say they should be focusing on customer insights, segmentation and improving performance.

• 44% executives say they are generating more value than the competition from digital business.

• ½ say initiatives are underfunded by 11% or more

But it wasn't all positive and rosy in the McKinsey survey when it comes to Big Data. While the C-Suite said they are outperforming the competition in getting value from its digital business, only 30 per cent of CIOs expect their companies to generate more value.

I wonder if the techies are more bearish because they're more conservative or because they're more realistic.

Perhaps the reason for the divide is found in later McKinsey survey questions where business admits that there are barriers preventing them from taking advantage of the digital initiatives including infrastructure limitations, lack of quality data, and difficulty finding talent with the capabilities to deliver on their goals.

I worry that without engagement and investment, the promise of Big Data initiatives will remain just that, a promise.

As a side note, Intel is putting its money where its mouth is. We recently announced that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been selected as our latest Intel Science and Technology Center. This new centre's focus is on big data and its mission is to "accelerate the pace of scientific and medical discoveries, enterprise and industrial computing and encourage innovation in the design of new data-intensive end-user experiences."

So, what's your experience with Big Data: Are you leveraging it? Is it a top priority? What kind of investment did you need to make? And more importantly, what have been the outcomes?