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While some call it little more than hype, Gartner believes harnessing the insights of big data could help some firms outperform their competition by as much as 20% this year.

But professional services firms are increasingly overwhelmed with the proliferation, availability and accessibility of information in today’s hypercompetitive market. Data from surveys, social media channels, customer service records, sales and marketing pipelines, weblogs, videos, text documents and myriad other sources resides in a plethora of silos, both inside and outside your “four walls”.

And if that weren’t daunting enough, the very volume of data seems to have its own center of gravity which pulls in more and more data at shorter and more frequent intervals, forcing you to despair of ever mastering its meaning. Yet you know that somewhere, hidden inside that mystic mountain of minutia, lies the keys to success.

And so you amass an army of willing soldiers to wage war on the morass of input, determined to assign meaning and context, capture value, create efficiencies, develop new services and ultimately become more competitive.

With professional services firms struggling to survive and compete on slimmer and slimmer margins, businesses are looking to big data to provide them with the edge not only to survive, but to prosper.

The reality, though, is that even though you have access to an unprecedented amount of information, you may not have the tools to connect the dots and draw conclusions.

So how can professional services firms crack the code on the staggering amount of complex information available today in order to grow their business? They're already slogging through a quagmire in their efforts to make sense of the growing pile of data that's right in front of them. Even though insight into this more familiar data could be a game changer, most companies haven’t wrapped their arms around it. So all the noise about big data is reduced to exactly that: Noise.

But make no mistake, the buzz around “big data” is not a flash in the pan; It’s a fundamental change in the way we’ll look at data from this moment on. Failure to understand and take advantage of technology to leverage it will guarantee some professional services firms will miss out on an opportunity to outperform their peers.

Clearly, expectations for the modern professional services firm in today's market have significantly evolved. Transformations in Big Data are creating a hyper-competitive market where operational excellence and flexibility are critical to coming out on top. It’s an exciting time to work in this industry.