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Investing in big data's second act

December 26, 2012: 7:15 AM ET

Private equity's role in big data's evolution.

By Hollie Moore Haynes, contributor

The list of life's certainties has gotten longer. Along with death and taxes we can now include information overload. The amount of data generated on a daily basis has exploded, overwhelming people and organizations alike. This creates an opportunity for many types of investors, including private equity firms, to turn information overload into smart data that can drive decision-making at the highest levels of enterprise.

For private equity investors this means two things: Investing in the emerging leaders who are building the apps, infrastructure and services that businesses need in order to capitalize on the data revolution, and ensuring that our portfolio companies are effectively using these capabilities to drive the success of their businesses.

Welcome to the Big Data opportunity:  Research firm IDC expects Big Data to grow from $3.2 billion in 2010 to $16.9 billion in 2015. Peter Sondergaard, Gartner's global head of research, says that by 2015 we'll see 4.4 million jobs devoted to the global support of Big Data, with 1.9 million based in the U.S. He also predicts a jobs multiplier effect – each IT job created by Big Data will generate three more positions outside of IT.

How new is this era, exactly? Some say that we are still in the nascent stages of the Big Data revolution, and the way to participate is via early-stage venture capital firms taking stakes in young startups. This is actually not the case. What we are witnessing is the evolution of enterprise intelligence, with companies continuing to refine their data strategies and sector winners beating their competitors by using their customer, market and product data more effectively.

Until now, Big Data was not synonymous with "smart data." Business intelligence until recently has meant enabling IT departments to warehouse and organize information that might be reviewed periodically by senior managers.  The intelligence was on the periphery of the decision-making process. Still, most enterprises adopted these tools very broadly and investors in these companies profited. IBM acquired Cognos.  Oracle acquired Hyperion.  And innovation moved on to the next set of emerging leaders.

The second act of Big Data is about action. This time intelligence will go beyond reporting. It will live at the heart of the organization, not at the edges. It will involve moving from historical insight to predictive information, enabling managers to make smarter decisions. To match these new capabilities, enterprises are building a new layer of infrastructure, applications and services.  No industry will remain untouched.  Investors have many options for participating in Big Data. While winners will be found among the startups and early stage venture capital firms providing the infrastructure layer, we believe that big successes will come from enabling the business users, providing intelligence applications and services or designing entirely new business models within verticals.

The winners of the second act of Big Data are now emerging. How can an organization place itself among them? First, it needs to understand the opportunities and the threats of this continuing, massive change. Second, it needs to start investing now in people and technology in order to avoid missing out as the second act unfolds.

A new set of Big Data investment opportunities exists in players ranging from the law enforcement and healthcare sectors to finance and government. We believe that Big Data is transforming how enterprises approach business issues. Providers of enabling technologies and business innovators all have opportunities for enormous success here. Who will be the winners in Big Data's second act? The list will certainly include private equity firms who can effectively direct investment in the trend. As for generalist investors, they should make sure their portfolio companies have an eye on the Big Data evolution to leverage their mountains of data and to see the road ahead.

Hollie Moore Haynes is a managing director with tech-focused private equity firm Silver Lake, where she is focused on the firm's growth and middle-market strategy, Silver Lake Sumeru. She joined the firm in 1999, and works out of its Menlo Park, Calif. office.

 

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