“Big data is a buzzword that is ambiguous and often misunderstood,” writes Jamie Grenney (@JamieGrenney). “But it also feels like it could be the next big thing.” [“What is Big Data? How Will It Impact Businesses and Society?” Business 2 Community (B2C), 15 August 2014] The fact that Grenney, who is Vice President of Marketing at Infer, is still referring to big data as “the next big thing,” even though it has been hyped for several years now, demonstrates that the era of big data remains in its infancy. Nevertheless, big data has already begun to alter the business landscape significantly and companies that want to be successful in the future must learn how to navigate this new terrain. Gil Allouche (@gilallouche), Vice President of marketing at Qubole, adds, “Big data is already making a big impact all over the world. Large corporations, world organisations, and governments have hopped aboard the big data bandwagon, hoping to utilise new sources of data to improve operations and increase productivity among many other reasons.” [“How big data is transforming every industry,” ITProPortal, 30 July 2014]
Data lying fallow in a database, regardless of its size, isn’t what is making an impact on the business landscape, regardless of how large that database is. The analytics applied to that data — analytics that glean insights and knowledge and discover correlations and relationships — are what is transforming the business landscape. J.J. Rosen, founder of Atiba, writes, “When famous philosopher and scientist Sir Francis Bacon coined the phrase ‘knowledge is power’ way back in 1597, he may have been on to something.” [“Utilizing data can help companies gain ground,” The Tennessean, 18 May 2014] Rosen admits that’s probably not a profound observation. “The notion of knowledge as a scarce resource as valuable as actual dollars or gold is nothing new,” he writes. “History is full of examples of innovative individuals and companies turning data into dollars. Those who have been able to successfully organize, mine and analyze data to gain actionable knowledge have fared well.” What makes the big data era different than past eras is that there is so much more data that needs to be analyzed. DOMO provided the following infographic that demonstrates just how much data we are talking about.
Rosen notes, “Combining big data with business intelligence (‘BI’) software that allow organizations to analyze mounds of data and turn it into useful knowledge is what represents the next frontier for computer scientists (or more accurately ‘data scientists’).” Grenney and Allouche each discuss how big data analytics are transforming the world around us. Grenney notes that there is a downside to big data, like “information overload, dependency on technology, and privacy risks.” But, like Allouche, he sees far more upside potential for big data. He discusses three of the benefits: autonomous, ubiquitous presence; transforming chaotic environments into a self-healing society; and, deadweight loss redistribution. Concerning the first benefit — autonomous, ubiquitous presence — he writes, “All kinds of services are working for us, even when we’re not thinking about them.” Concerning the second benefit — transforming chaotic environments into a self-healing society — he writes:
“In the future, problems will be predicted and resolved before we even think about them. Self-driving cars will navigate around traffic. The airline industry will adjust bookings and communications based on weather and flight delays. And many business transactions will move from console transactions typed into a computer to pragmatic transactions, which involve weighing many signals before automatically optimizing for good outcomes.”
Finally, concerning deadweight loss redistribution, he writes, “There are massive inefficiencies we can eliminate by listening to data, which can in turn free up and repurpose energy for the most critical endeavors.” Allouche takes a broader look at how big data is transforming the world around us. In the area of agriculture, for example, he writes:
“Big data has the chance to totally revolutionize farming as we know it. While farming has always sought to use new technology to improve crop output, big data is helping farmers take the next big leap into providing food for a growing population. In this new age, tractors come equipped with sensors that work to collect data on seeding rates, crop yields, ground conditions, and other factors that prove vital in day-to-day farming. The benefits that could be gained from this newly gathered data are intriguing. From the collected information, farmers and seed companies hope to produce more crops while working on the same amount of land. Combining data from fields and weather patterns may help farmers prepare for extreme conditions which might otherwise damage crops. Big data from genomic analysis can also help scientists engineer crops that are drought-resistant.”
In the area of education, Allouche notes, “Large universities already know about the benefits of big data, but now the same advantages are trickling into smaller schools at the elementary level.” Although there have been some setbacks in the use of big data in education, once the kinks are worked out I believe big data will help personalize and improve education. In the area of healthcare, Allouche reports:
“What is available to many large hospitals across the nation is now a possibility for smaller hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices. Many of the advances from big data are being used for the treatment and recovery of patients. Doctors are now getting access to vital patient records through mobile technology such as smartphones and tablets. That same technology can also analyse the symptoms doctors input and calculate viable treatments that would be effective for the patient in need. The data also takes into account all the latest research, meaning any recommended treatments are up-to-date. In essence, these advances using big data allow doctors to make more informed decisions at a quicker rate, meaning more quality for patient care no matter where they may live.”
Concerning how big data analytics can make cities smarter, Allouche writes, “Smaller cities and towns now have the ability to manage their resources even better now that technologies that analyse big data are more affordable. … Energy conservation is usually on the minds of many city council members, and with big data, smaller cities and towns have the chance to help save on energy costs.” He concludes:
“Big data is not just a big part of life for large cities and metropolitan areas anymore. The spreading technology is starting to make an impact in suburban and rural environments, affecting more lives than ever before. Expect the spread to only increase over time as people become more familiar with how big data can benefit their lives.”
Grenney and Allouche write so glowingly about the benefits of big data analytics that one might conclude there is only clear sailing ahead. If only that were true. There are numerous challenges associated with big data, including data integration and asking the best questions to ensure getting the best answers. Fortunately, there are lots of companies working on these challenges. I do think the future will be much brighter as we learn to harness the power of the data we are now gathering. We are just learning to crawl in the early stages of big data analytics; but, we are maturing fast.