Technology law expert Andrew Brydon of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the ability to utilise the latest technology and data analytics techniques to glean insights from the information they collect will help businesses separate themselves from rivals.
"Businesses need to be aware and devise a 'big data' strategy," Brydon said. "If they don't, they are going to fall behind market competitors."
'Big data' refers to the use of technology to assess massive amounts of data, often to learn more about people or groups of people and their behaviour.
According to a new survey conducted by research firm Gartner, 64% of organisations have invested, or plan to invest, in big data technology this year. Gartner surveyed 720 business leaders based around the world.
Gartner said that media and communications (39%), banking (34%) and services (32%) businesses are leading big data investments in 2013, whilst half of the business leaders who work in transportation, 41% of those in healthcare and 40% in insurance said they were planning to invest in big data.
"Investment typically has different stages that organisations go through," Gartner said. "It starts with knowledge gathering, followed by strategy setting. The investment is small, and mostly consists of time. Then it is typically followed by an experiment or proof of concept. Still, the investment is small and tentative. Then, after completing a successful pilot, the first deployments take place. Here the investment curve rises. Over time, business operations start to rely on the deployments, and the investments move from implementing systems to managing them."
US businesses are front runners in big data investment, with 38% of organisations surveyed indicating that they have invested in "technology specifically designed to address the big data challenge". However, businesses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) are lagging behind in their adoption of such technology, it said.
"The main reason why European businesses are behind their US counterparts in big data technology investment is that the explosion of data in the past two years has primarily been enabled by US-based companies," Brydon said. "Many of the internet giants have their roots in the US. Likewise, the companies developing the tools for analysing all this data have tended mostly to be American."
"However, the geographic lag time on technology and innovation is much reduced from what it used to be, and companies in Europe need to be ready to invest and develop accordingly," he added.
Businesses operating within Europe do face slightly different legal challenges around the use of data from those operating elsewhere in the world, Brydon said. This is another part of the reason why big data projects have been relatively lower in number in Europe compared with the US, he said.
"Legislation governing data protection in Europe is in some ways more restrictive than in some other parts of the world," Brydon said. "A number of other legal considerations must also be weighed by businesses wishing to take advantage of the opportunities big data presents them. They must ask themselves questions such as 'who owns the data?' and whether they have a right, or licence, to use it. They should also consider the possible effect of competition law. These are important factors in regulating how business should interact with this explosion of data," he said.