"Big data is forcing IT and business intelligence [teams] together" to find ways of exploring new data together, he said.
Payroll processor ADP is taking the same approach. The company has set up an Innovation Lab to manage how it stores, processes and analyzes extremely large data sets.
The idea is to create an environment where subject matter experts from different industries and backgrounds can work together to tackle big data analytics, Roberto Masiero, vice president of ADP's Innovation Labs, said in a keynote address.
In a sense what is happening is reminiscent of the situation when enterprises first started using online analytical processing tools, said William Herridge, managing director of emerging solutions at the Tribune Company.
"When we made the transition to OLAP (online analytical processing), it was hard to get business users to get over their [existing] mindset," of using tabular data, he said. "They didn't have any idea of the value of OLAP till you started showing them," he said. IT organizations face the same challenge with big data, he said.
"We see the value in this, but getting users to understand that value and seeing it is there," is a huge challenge, especially when dealing with concepts such as unstructured data, he said. "Until business users can see some benefits, they are not going to sign on to big data projects," Herridge said.
The hardest part of using big data is trying to get business leaders and executives to sit down and define what they want out of the huge amount of unstructured and semi-structured data that is available to enterprises, said Vivek Ratna, a partner with Digital Learning Solutions in Irving, Texas.
"The fault is ours because IT has not articulated as well as we should have what value business can derive," from big data, Ratna said. Many IT organizations are still not collecting or using unstructured data because they are unsure of the business value and not because of technology reasons, he said.
"Unless we can define what value can be derived [from big data] or the business leaders can tell us what value they want to get out of it, we are just playing in the dark," he said.
The sentiments are consistent with those expressed by respondents in a recent survey by market research firm TheInfoPro. The survey of 255 IT professionals showed that a majority of companies had no big data plans because they didn't have a specific business case for one.