In the same way that Columbus “discovered” a New World that was already there, more businesses may be about to discover the world of semantic web technology that’s been there all along.

Photo credit: Flickr/torkildr

Their expeditions in this direction, not surprisingly, are likely to have a Big Data hook. In a recent survey, New Vantage Partners queried the connection, asking respondents, “What data structures and standards are of particular interest in your Big Data initiatives?.” It listing among the choices flat-file, relational, graphs, and yes, Semantic Web technology.

Among the benefits of the latter, of course, are that it brings a cohesive way to integrate and query data from various sources. Indeed, responses to the survey’s definition of Big Data saw 40 percent of surveyed individuals’ comments citing data variety, as well as complexity and quality, compared to just 10 percent that mentioned volume. Most respondents, the Big Data Executive Survey report says, are using Big Data to attack known problems (integrating and analyzing diverse data) from known data sources. “Marrying transactional, unstructured, and clickstream data together for analysis is a challenging, perennial problem with high potential business value,” it notes.

“Since the respondents are focused on integrating various sources and types of data, data integration will continue to be one of the greatest challenges faced by IT organizations,” writes Thomas H. Davenport, a Visiting Professor at Harvard Business School and the co-founder and Director of Research at the International Institute for Analytics, in a forward to the report.

The full survey results are only provided to the participating companies, so we don’t know the percentage of respondents who cited Semantic Web as key to their Big Data efforts. But the fact that it even shows up on the list says something about the survey authors’ expectations that the idea is at least penetrating the consciousness of large companies. New Vantage also has begun publishing reports about the work, which surveyed an impressive array of titles including Chief Data Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Technology Officers, Chief Analytics Officers, Chief Information Architects, Line-of-Business Heads, and senior Function Heads at large companies.

A few stats cited by New Vantage’s managing partners Paul Barth and Randy Bean that showed up here include:

  • 85 percent of organizations reported that they have Big Data initiatives planned or in progress.
  • 70 percent report that these initiatives are enterprise-driven.
  • 75 percent expect an impact across multiple lines of business.
  • 80 percent believe that initiatives will cross multiple lines of business or functions.
  • Only 17 percent of respondents ranked their ability to use data and analytics to transform their business as more than adequate or world-class.

Barth and Bean note that IT leaders tended to judge the last point more harshly than business executives, with 57 percent of them ranking the company as less than adequate at the task, compared to 18 percent of business executives. Why? It comes down to, yup, a data integration issue: “ “Recall that 80% of respondents agreed that Big Data initiatives would reach across multiple lines of business,” they write. “That reality bumps right up against the biggest data challenge respondents identified: ‘integrating a wider variety of data.’

This challenge appears to be more apparent to IT than to business executives. We’d guess that they’re more aware of how silo’d their companies really are, and that this is another reason that they judge the company’s capacity to transform itself using Big Data more harshly.”

The article also notes that probably a lesser percentage of respondents actually have a Business/IT collaboration on Big Data thought leadership than the 77 percent who reported such a relationship existed. But the opportunity is there for IT to have an impact, including driving the discussion on the role of the semantic web in helping to solve the challenges.

As Frank Coyle, director of the Software Engineering program in the Lyle School of Engineering at Southern Methodist University, recently explained the about the intersection of Big Data and the Semantic Web, “This is a way to give companies the ability to start asking new sets of questions, and think about integration in new ways.” (For more of the Semantic Web Blog’s recent interview with Coyle, see this story here.)