IT leaders have been on a quest to obtain competitive advantage through technology for 25 years. And that quest is about to enter a new chapter: the era of big data analytics. It means quickly sifting through petabytes of data to find useful business facts you never knew before.

To get started, you'll need to ask blue-sky questions of your business execs-such as "if only we knew&" or "if we could predict&"--so you'll know what to look for. Then you'll have to figure out what internal and external data could help. Third, you'll need to find "data scientists" who can help you make sense of all that data, which won't be easy.

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