Big Data, 2014-12-August-Leading-the-Band.jpgThe explosion in popularity of new business intelligence platforms and data warehouse technologies throughout the 1990s was well documented. But while companies in a broad range of industries including financial services, high-tech and retail were quick to embrace the newfound ability to analyze past business performance, most universities, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies remained quietly on the sidelines.

Two decades later, another major wave of technological innovation is sweeping over the IT landscape in the form of modern big data analytics solutions. Only this time, the script has been flipped.

The same schools, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies that were last on the scene during the business intelligence boom are now among the earliest and most aggressive adopters of modern data analytics technologies. Right from the start, organizations in these three critical sectors were -- and still remain -- eager to embrace the big data revolution, quickly understanding the many ways they stood to benefit by connecting to and analyzing all forms of data, including new data types such as text, video and social media.

What changed? What turned these habitual late-movers into the most enthusiastic of early adopters? As with any significant shift in behavior, there are a number of contributing factors, but let’s take a look at three of the most critical.

1. The Customer Has Changed

Nothing changes the behavior of an organization more quickly than a change in the behavior of its customers. In the case of universities and hospitals, the behavioral patterns of the students and patients they serve have changed dramatically.

Students today -- at all levels -- are conscientious adopters of technology and fervent users of social media. They go through their entire academic careers without ever hand-writing a report or setting foot in a physical library. Students don’t want digital connectivity in the classroom -- they flat out expect it. They are the epitome of the data-driven consumer. To understand them, schools realized they must understand both the data they create and the data they consume.

The same can be said of hospital patients. Hospitals were among the first to come head-on with an internet savvy clientele -- the WebMD effect, so to speak. Patients that used to come to doctors for answers were suddenly coming to them to confirm what their web research had already convinced them was true. To better understand and communicate with patients, hospitals had no choice but to better understand the digital world driving their behaviors.

As for pharmaceutical companies, just try getting a modern trial participant to provide feedback by way of a written form or a phone interview. That’s a study going nowhere fast. The ability to capture and analyze digital information has become a necessity for companies whose livelihoods depend on receiving feedback.

2. The Digitization of Data Made it Worthwhile

Universities, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies weren't late to the business intelligence game in the ‘90s on account of laziness. They were late-movers because there was no perceived business value to be gained. All of their data was maintained through paperwork. Their digital footprints were miniscule. The organizations simply didn’t stand to benefit enough to make immediate investment in these new business intelligence technologies worth their while -- or their money. And even if they thought it was worth their while, there was the issue of security. Aside from classified government documents, there may be no more sensitive forms of information in the world than student data, patient data and trial data. The concerns around security were in many cases too daunting to move past.