Is big data the answer for nonprofits?

June 4, 2013

Is big data the answer for nonprofits?

Nonprofits are always looking for a competitive edge that will help them add more investors to the donor network, be smarter about financial forecasts and keep an eye on what other organizations are doing. The simple solution to these issues would be to begin using big data, but, unfortunately it's not that easy, according to Nonprofit Quarterly.

Before nonprofits get started on a big data initiative, there are a lot of things to consider: What data sets will be used? Who will be in charge of making sense of the information? What tools will the organization invest in to help with reporting? Here are some reasons why it might be wise for nonprofits to wait on trying to use of the massive information streams:

Security concerns are real
It is often difficult enough for nonprofits to keep their information safe due to the growing number of cyberrisks that loom today. Organizations that struggle with data security will be in for a wake up call if they start collecting large information sets without a secure virtual infrastructure.

This is a problem for many entities throughout the world. Recent research conducted by data-centric security solutions provider Voltage Security revealed 76 percent of senior-level IT and security respondents said the inability to keep the information used in big data initiatives safe is a reason to worry. Furthermore, 56 percent said such privacy concerns have either hindered or discouraged cloud or big data projects altogether.

"This is a huge roadblock for organizations that are ready to reap the benefits of big data – the majority of large and mid-size organizations are finding that an inability to protect sensitive data within a big data environment is a major concern, so while they may be starting projects, they are abandoning them," said Dave Anderson, senior director of marketing at Voltage Security.

It's not impossible to secure big data
Many organizations throughout the world have experienced high levels of success in their big data deployments and nonprofits shouldn't be discouraged to try their hand in harnessing the massive amount of information that is out there. But the proper security solutions are needed, and top decision-makers at the organization should be able to determine if these projects will allow them to achieve a high return on investment. Nonprofits often have stretched budgets, and taking a half-hearted attempt at big data could be another cause for concern.

"Consider the reality of today's data lifecycle – data travels among users, across states and countries, across different IT systems and end-user devices," said Anderson. "It's a complex issue, but can be addressed by deploying data-centric security to ensure that data remains not only protected but private, anywhere it moves, lives and however it is used."

Organizations want results now
Another potential problem nonprofits can run into when trying out a big data deployment is that it often takes nearly two years to begin seeing a favorable ROI from the initiative. Organizations that are patient often see higher levels of success, but some entities simply can't wait that long. According to a study from Kapow Software, a big data solution provider, six in 10 executives and IT leaders said it takes about 18 months to properly carry out an entire project, which is why 52 percent of respondents rate their success with the initiatives so far as lukewarm.

Are the right employees on the team?
Decision-makers at nonprofits simply can't pick up a report that was created with big data insights and make sense of it. In fact, there's a good chance it will look like a foreign language. This is another issue organizations have to deal with when embarking on a big data journey.

Eighty-one percent of respondents to the Kapow Software survey said they still use manual data aggregation, which is often difficult without a data scientist. This is why 85 percent of executives and IT professionals said they needed solutions that were user-centric – allowing those who are skilled in information sciences to be able to realize the benefits of big data. The advantages created by the information streams are clear, but the problem lies in being able to take insights from big data projects and make them actionable for decision-makers to to improve their organization.

"A clear strategic imperative has emerged: making Big Data insights easily consumable across the workforce," said Karl Ederle, chief product officer at Kapow Software."It's become critical for organizations of all kinds to deliver the right information rapidly enough to the right employee so it can be acted upon quickly to make a business impact."

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