Some people believe it takes two full years for students to fully understand and master new concepts. The first year in the cycle, when a new concept is introduced, is considered a learning year. The following year is considered a growth and review year.

The thinking holds that while students technically learn about new concepts during the first year, it’s not until the second year that they can truly begin applying them in an active manner, one that displays measurable growth and development.

In many ways, the landscape of big data at the close of 2014 can be described in similar terms.

Generally speaking, 2014 was a learning year. IT decision makers across all verticals realized they could no longer ignore the changing landscape brought on by growth in the volume, velocity and variety of data. Investments were made and infrastructure was overhauled. After many years of pomp and circumstance, 2014 was the year big data finally become the infrastructure of reality.

Looking Ahead

As the calendar flips to 2015, big data is poised for a year of significant growth. That growth will be reflected in terms of both market share and the maturity and business-centric focus with which big data investments are leveraged.

2014 was about getting the infrastructure in place meet the needs of the new data landscape. 2015 will be about applying it in an active manner to meet the needs of the business. The promise of big data has never been about rebuilding IT infrastructure or standing up Hadoop clusters, but rather about connecting to and analyzing data in order to deliver actionable business insights.

This shift in the focus from infrastructure to business outcomes will be the most important tech trend in the big data space in 2015, but it won’t be the only one. Here are other trends to expect:

1. BI, visualization and dashboarding merge as analytics take center stage

Evidenced by the success of many vendors in the space, visualization and dashboarding tools have become increasingly popular. In 2015, business intelligence, visualization, dashboarding and ad-hoc query tools -- all of which are marketed and sold today as separate product categories -- will begin to merge as one, perhaps not yet in the marketplace, but in the mind of the consumer.

Learning Opportunities

Instead of being seen as distinct product categories, these tools will blend together as the collective means through which predictive and prescriptive analytics are delivered for consumption. Customers will be increasingly less concerned with the mode of data visualization used and more concerned with the strength and viability of the underlying analytics. They may not have the aesthetic appeal of their visualization counterparts, but advanced analytics will be the sexy tool of 2015.

2. Marriage of the old and the new

If big data is in fact now the infrastructure of reality and if companies truly want to get serious about achieving returns from the investments they’ve made, then they have little choice but to make 2015 the year they marry the old (their existing relational infrastructure) with the new (their big data platforms). Being able to connect to and analyze data is only valuable if analysts can break down the silos. As a result, IT leaders will move aggressively to invest in integration technologies that marry that new Hadoop cluster with the existing data warehouse.

3. Information-as-a-Service begins the emerge

The popularity of “as-a-Service” delivery models is only going to increase in the years ahead. On the heels of the success of software as a service models, I believe Information-as-a-Service (IaaS) or Expertise-as-a-Service delivery models are likely the next step in the evolution. The tutoring industry provides a good blueprint for how this might look. Unlike traditional IT contractors, tutors are not necessarily hired to accomplish any one specific task, but are instead paid for short periods of time to share expertise and information.

Now imagine a similar model within the context of data analytics. The shortfall most often discussed with regard to analytics is not in tooling but in expertise. In that sense, it’s not hard to imagine a world where companies express an interest in “renting” expertise from vendors. It could be in the form of human expertise, but it could also be in the form of algorithmic expertise, whereby analytics vendors develop delivery models through which companies rent algorithms for use and application within in their own applications. Regardless of what form it takes in terms of its actual delivery, the notion of information or expertise as a service is an inevitability, and 2015 might just be the year IT vendors start to embrace it.

4. The Internet of Things (IoT) enters a period of disillusionment

And that’s a good thing. Before anything can really grow up into a “real” technology that has real application for real companies, issues need to be ironed out, and that can’t happen until those issues arise in the first place. This includes issues with connectivity, applicability and most of all, security. 2015 will likely be the year that, diving headlong into the IoT excitement, companies start to experience these challenges in a first-hand manner. So why is this a good thing for IoT? Because it will force the industry a whole to get serious about using IoT technology in a truly applicable manner, with bona fide safeguards in place to ensure proper security and connectivity.

And Finally ...

One last prediction: As predictions abound in the coming weeks, you’ll likely to hear lots of chatter about the death of big data. Be sure to take the talk in context. Big data’s lifespan as a hyped-up, futuristic mega-trend is in fact nearing its end. But that only means the real work -- and the real fun -- is just beginning. No matter how you label it, data and information will continue to be the lifeblood of business in 2015.