Big ideas about Big Data

We can’t get enough. Data creation has gone into overload with an ever increasing appetite for content. Every single minute, the world generates 1.7 million billion bytes of data. That’s equal to 360,000 DVDs.

But the question facing those that rely on data is not the availability of content, in which we are drowning; rather it is access to timely and relevant data to inform our decision making. Where do you find it?  What form is it in?  How do you query it to serve up the insights you need to help make decisions?

Making sense of it all

For most businesses their focus is on customers, competitors and supply chain. There is a large amount of “structured” data available in business in formats most of us are used to – databases, spreadsheets and email. There are also significant amounts of other “unstructured” data  – diagrams, pictures, instant messaging and more found in the public domain through search and social media. Government has also seen the value of Big Data to drive the knowledge economy, and is opening up free access of previously unavailable data to businesses.

The challenge is to extract useful insights by assembling volumes of data from this variety of sources with the velocity of data from social media feeds. The top three expected uses of Big Data being: 1) product and service improvement and innovation 2) customer service and support 3) pricing strategies. What can we read into this?  All of them have a focus on the customer.

To cite an example of the benefits – Netflix uses Big Data to dig into the two billion hours of viewing that Netflix subscribers notch up each month in order to understand their viewing habits and preferences.  Tools like predictive modelling and a sophisticated recommendations algorithm have helped to successfully grow subscribers to 48 million and plan to be operating in 46 countries by the end of 2014.

Breaking the data silos

The world increasingly sees technology as a utility made available on affordable terms by service providers who remove the risk of putting technology to work. Big Data requires processing, storage capacity and software technology that most businesses can neither afford nor have the skills to use. Typically data that is available for analysis is internal to the business and the challenges of combining that with external data sources, even if you knew where to look, is overwhelming. The result is that businesses are accustomed to live with self-imposed limitations. By working with a service provider these limitations are alleviated.

Before you approach a service provider consider what you are trying to solve, catalogue your data assets and scope the desired result that you would pay money to achieve. Don’t overwork the brain at this point, as you’ll be looking to tap into the service provider’s experience.

Focus on solving complex business problems and applying the insights generated to the business. Where Big Data is delivered as a service it gets you in the game faster and mitigates risk when using the optimised technology of the service provider and accessing their experience. That is hugely tempting for businesses as they seek to gain the advantages from Big Data.

In the final analysis, the question to ask before you explore the potential of Big Data is: do you feel (that gut feeling thing) that you are taking advantage of all available data to inform your decision-making and productivity of your workforce? Only you have the answer to that question, but if it’s a “no”, then adopting Big Data as a Service could be a way forward for greater insight and smarter decision making in the future.