Like the cloud, big data is another buzzword that has been openly tossed around without proper understanding of what it means and why it matters. For CTOs, who are in charge of taking the enormous amount of data that is sent into a firm each day and translating it into easy-to-understand reports and figures that will help the company grow, really getting big data is key. That's because not using big data to its full potential is essentially leaving money on the table - and that isn't good for the company or the CTO.

What Is Big Data?

There are a lot of definitions tossed around, but generally speaking, what each term has in common is that big data deals with the huge volume of unstructured data created from a business process. For example, in the case of a website, this means the analysis of the multitude of data that is delivered with each website visit, email open, transaction and more. Data collected on this touches can be analyzed to determine the right business strategy and make changes to improve the business. This is vital to the long-term success of any firm.

Big data is like a puzzle. Put it together in a way that works for your organization, and you can help it thrive. Here are five things you need to know first.

1. It Can Be (Relatively) Simple

The trend in big data has not been lost on large software firms. In fact, industry leaders are paving the way for businesses to implement big data more quickly and easily than ever before by offering full-package solutions. These solutions include both the hardware and software needed to help businesses employ big data tactics.

Until big data box solutions started to come to market, Hadoop was at the forefront of big data development. While this open-source software framework still remains a very strong player in the big data market, more businesses with fewer resources are trending toward boxed solutions to help them get started faster and easier.

2. Statistics Are Still Tricky

While big data can reveal a lot, statistics that are taken out of context are open to misinterpretation. This is an important consideration when setting up any big data framework. Executives and marketers should play a large role in helping to determine the right statistics and the best way to obtain these statistics from the volume of data received every day. Without doing so, CTOs risk providing an inaccurate view through misanalyzed numbers. One example of how this can happen can be seen in a study done by researcher Lev Manovich on social media analytics. What he found was that data from social media sites generally only represents a portion of the people on the site and not the group as a whole. (Find out companies deal with their data in Taming the Big Data Monster.)

3. It Isn't Cheap

The cost associated with implementing a big data solution can be a large hurdle for CTOs when trying to convince upper management of its importance and need. Unfortunately, there aren't many statistics on this because big data is still relatively new. That said, there are some studies that can help convince CEOs to implement these tools. Also, if competitors are seeing success with big data, that's another good marker CEOs will look for in terms of potential return on investment.

4. It Can Reveal New Revenue Opportunities

C-level executives must see the amount of knowledge and opportunity that can be gleaned from having access to big data in order to be convinced that it is worth the expense. From optimizing lead generation, analyzing social media success and getting an overview of content marketing effects, businesses are able to learn far more about their own business and act with more and better intelligence about what their customers want and are demanding. Because more firms are starting to jump on board with big data, studies and statistics are slowly starting to filter out successful approaches. (Learn more about how big data's used in Big Data: How It's Captured, Crunched and Used to Make Business Decisions.)

5. Businesses Must Adapt to Succeed

A 2010 study by Steve LaValle, Eric Lesser, Rebecca Shockley, Michael S. Hopkins and Nina Kruschwitz showed that top-performing businesses used big data five times more than underperforming companies. This study went on to discover that big data, in order to remain accurate and provide the most valuable information, must be implemented in conjunction with current systems and use the same business strategies. Unfortunately, this is something that CTOs continue to struggle with, largely because of the cost and the difficulty in convincing the CEO to invest in big data.

The reality is that companies that fail to employ this approach are becoming increasingly unable to compete, and will inevitably fall behind others that do have a system in place to monitor and respond to data.

Big Data, Big Changes

New digital trends and consumer behaviors demand new ways to analyze the enormous amounts of data that pour in from various sources. Big data is the way to do this and without implementation, many businesses will find themselves falling behind the curve, rather than competing at the highest possible level.