Today, we live in a world where the magnitude of change is unprecedented. Escalating costs, evolving technologies, complex regulations and unpredictable markets are impacting businesses around the world and creating new challenges in meeting shareholder and client expectations. These mega-changes necessitate the need for businesses to make smarter decisions in order to operate efficiently. One important way of enabling smart decision-making is leveraging analytics.

There are, however, some misconceptions of analytics in the marketplace. Many people equate "business analytics" with basic number crunching in Excel spreadsheets. Others equate it to business intelligence tools, reporting or MIS and advanced predictive analysis. And there are some who associate analytics with business processes such as financial planning and accounting or emerging trends such as social media analytics.

In fact, analytics is all of the above and much more. Not just a business function, analytics is a process that bridges the data-information-insight-decision gaps in an organization. It not only encompasses obtaining information, but also finding the means to manage and make sense out of that information.

Big data analytics, in particular, helps organizations leverage all available data, including previously unused data, to understand customers, partners, markets and businesses, and to significantly impact performance. With big data analytics, a consumer packaged goods manufacturer can use advanced visualization techniques on geospatial data overlaid with demographic data to help determine market entry strategies and distribution strategies. The same manufacturer can also optimize trade spends by running predictive models using data on trade programs, promotions and sales. And a financial services organization can reduce risk exposure by identifying risky customers and fraudulent transactions. Organizations that successfully embed analytic insights into business decisions create a competitive advantage, one that CFOs cannot afford to ignore.